Find The Main Characters That Work For You

2014 Artwork Best Type Of Protagonists Article Sketch

Well, a while after I wrote yesterday’s article, there was one line from it that still stuck in my mind. It was a line about how my writing changed for the better when I was twenty and it reads: ” I finally realised that I vastly preferred, and was mildly better at, writing female protagonists“.

Apart from exaggerated male protagonists in comedy stories (like this one), I’m just better at writing stories with female protagonists. Or, more specifically – I’m best at writing a particular type of female protagonist.

The ideal type of protagonists for me to write are slightly cynical, slightly tomboyish, know lots of random stuff and are often either detectives, eccentrics, outlaws or rebels of some kind or another.

I don’t know, this might just be a transgender thing. Since I find it difficult (if not impossible) to express myself fully in real life, I guess that all of these gigantic hidden parts of who I am just kind of joyously emerge onto the page on the rare occasions that I write fiction. This probably also explains why I didn’t really write any stories featuring female protagonists until I was about twenty, given how hard I tried to ignore, minimise and repress myself before then.

For me, knowing which kinds of protagonists I was best at writing was an even larger revelation than when I suddenly realised that I was vastly better at writing stories from a first-person perspective than I was at writing stories from a third-person perspective.

So, although I don’t really write much (if any) fiction these days – I know that, when I finally get back into writing again, I’ll probably end up writing something from a first person perspective with a female protagonist. And, in a strange way, this is kind of reassuring.

Anyway, enough about me. I’m sure that you’ve probably seen other writers who always seem to have the same type of main character in most of their stories. One great example of this would probably be Billy Martin – a retired horror/gothic/romance novelist (who now seems to be working as an artist) who wrote under the name of “Poppy Z. Brite”.

Anyway, almost all of the protagonists in his novels are all surprisingly handsome gay men and I can’t really imagine him writing at length with any other type of protagonist than this – he’s just so good at writing these types of characters.

Plus, some writers just use the same main character in all of their stories. I mean, take a look at Lee Child – literally all of the many thriller novels that he’s written feature the same main character. He’s an American guy called Jack Reacher who is a six-foot tall retired military policeman. And, despite the lack of different main characters, Lee Child’s novels are still extremely readable and fun.

So, I guess that some writers have an ideal “type” of protagonist and some writers just have an ideal protagonist. Still, it can be very useful to find the kinds of protagonists who really “click” with you because it can really make your writing come to life and – most importantly- make your really enjoy writing.

Of course, there are also those magical writers (like Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman) who seem perfectly comfortable with writing a vast variety of radically different protagonists and I’ve never quite understood this, but I have a huge amount of respect for any writer who can do this.

Still, if you find that your stories feel like they’re “lacking something”, then it might be worth looking at your main characters and seeing if you can change them in any way. Although it can sometimes take a lot of introspection and trial-and-error to find the right kind of protagonist for your stories, it’s certainly worth doing because it can make a shocking difference in the quality of your writing.


Sorry that this article was so short, but I hope it was useful 🙂

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