All of the above are probably synonyms you’ve used when talking about your main character. Most writers feel attached to their protagonists which can make them blind to just how bland or 2D their main character appears to the reader. Heck, even if you are completely unattached to your protagonist it doesn’t mean you’ve got him or her fleshed out. Here are four tips to get you started!
Know How They’ve Grown Before The Story
Are you the same person you were at age seven? How about seventeen? I sure hope not! Chances are the events in your life have shaped you into who you are today. You’ve grown (for better or for worse) throughout your entire life. The same for protagonist (or any character really).
Now, please, for the love of chocolate, don’t pull a George McDonald. McDonald had a habit of writing out his protagonist’s entire life story into each novel he wrote. The story started with the birth or early childhood of the main cast and followed them until the day they died. Modern readers don’t have the same attention span. You should know your character’s life story, but spare your readers from reading to every detail. Only tell backstory if it is relevant to the plot.
Plan A Character Arc
Just as the past events have brought your protagonist to a certain point (emotional and personality wise), the events of your novel should do the same. If you have a solo (or stand-alone) story, then there should be a notable growth to your character by the end your story. How has the events of the story shaken or forced your character to evolve?
If you’re writing a series then the change can be more subtle throughout each book, but there should still be some subtle growth. Over the course of the series there should be a clear arch of character growth.
Give Them Flaws
As much as I absolutely love him (and I may, or may not, be mentally married to him), I’m gonna have to use Captain America as an example of an overly perfect character. He has high morals, he’s pretty (just look at them biceps), and he will always fight for what is right (also, did I mention them biceps?). But what are his flaws? He’s a slight stick in the mud? A tad naive? Heaven forbid!
Now, they don’t need to have a crippling flaw, but give them something that will hinder them in their quest if they don’t learn from or outgrow the flaw. Everyone has their flaws bite them in the butt at some point. It makes the character relatable which in turn will make your reader connect to them.
Give Them A Realistic Chance
A protagonist newly discovering powers or tales of a ‘chosen one’ are the most common offenders of this annoying and illogical trope. If your character just barely picked up a sword, they shouldn’t be able to defeat your master swordsman villain, at least not with a sword anyways.
If your whole story is about a girl who just learned she has magical powers, don’t have her defeat someone who’s been using magic since before your protagonist could even walk. Have her defeat them with wit or cunning, not just magical power. Natural born talent is nothing compared to years (or decades) of training and practice.
Hope you have found these tips helpful! If you want more tips on fleshing out characters, check out my other posts on the subject. Most of them can be applied to any character but I separate them out into the roles where I see the most offenders.