I’m not a fan of infallible heroic protagonists. I like them with warts and fears and indecisions. They might be a bumbler, or a hero by accident. They might even be a reformed villain. When I have a protagonist who is the main character, I like to get inside their heads and frequently show the words they are spouting may not always match with what they are thinking. A bold face may cover a quaking heart. Sometimes they develop this way entirely by accident; another case of where the character escapes from the author and shows their true colors all on their own. In a novel-length tale there is room to show how events may change a character and allow them to grow. In the Dark Lady series I created a main character who went from bare survival mode to leading the charge.
Let’s face-it, you probably want to be able to like and admire the main character. They should have more good qualities than bad, but they shouldn’t be bland. If they are too pure, and boring, the reader may end up cheering for the villain.
Your main protagonist has to face many trials and tribulations. If not, are you writing a “literary” novel where they are all talk and angst and no action? (I apologize; I just had to add that in. I really didn’t mean it.) When I’m writing and get the feeling everything is going far too well for the main character I have a phrase that creeps to my mind: “It’s time to drop a piano on their head’” only figuratively, of course. Throw in a crisis or three. Is that a wolf at the door?
Think about the stories you enjoy and the characters you relate to. Ask yourselves why. If there is a hint of romance, create roadblocks. Don’t make it too easy. On the other hand, there has to be a reason for behavior. In the Queen’s Pawn I have a young lady who treats the hero positively beastly, but she does have a backstory that may account for at least part of her behavior. In the end they both might get what they deserve, or not. That’s the fun of creating fiction. In my case I don’t necessarily work out every plot detail in advance so I have to finish the story to find out.
Another character I spend a lot of time with is the detective in my Housetrap series. Started out almost as a bit of a curmudgeon, seems to have (maybe?) mellowed and developed a backstory I didn’t know was there when I started. The advantage to writing a series is you get to discover all sorts of things about your characters. You have a good idea of what they would do under certain circumstances. The disadvantage is keeping some consistency over the long run and making it fresh.
My last comment has to do with my heroines. I have seen the light and include a goodly number of strong women in most of my tales. The advantages are many. You have a better conflict between hero and heroine if they are equally matched, or comedic possibilities if they are not. Writing fantasy gives me an advantage over straight historical fiction. I can write about as many bold females as I like, rather than sticking to Cleopatra, Zenobia, or their ilk. Some of my storied royal princesses are equally liable to use a chair or a sharp blade as resort to poison. Most can throw a nasty punch (or kick) when required, or be as soft as a feather pillow if the mood strikes..
The bottom line is there always should be some kind of conflict in the story, real or imagined, in the hero/heroines way to make for an involving tale. To achieve that, you often need to create the balance of an opposite force for them to struggle against, whether it is nature, (their own, or the Mother herself,) each other, or the drooling but seriously menacing, villain.
The Dark Lady TrilogyThe Queen’s Pawn
The Housetrap Chronicles
Coming in May 2015: Alex in Wanderland,