The Importance of a Strong Protagonist by Lynn Seresin
Does a successful protagonist need to be strong? That’s a no-brainer. If the protagonist isn’t strong, the reader won’t want to read about him or her. Period. But that doesn’t tell us what makes a protagonist strong, does it? Is a strong protagonist likeable, brave, nice? Maybe, but does he or she have to be so for us to be drawn into their story?
Let’s explore the idea of a “strong” protagonist. First and foremost, a strong protagonist is someone who grabs your interest. Often, she (I’m going to assume our protagonist is female only because most protagonists in YA novels are girls, but the same would apply to a male main character) is particularly brave or skillful (think Katniss in The Hunger Games), or she might be someone totally ordinary (think Bella in Twilight). Either way, there’s something about these two characters (and countless others) that compels us to want to hear their story. In both these instances, their particular “voice” pulls us in. Both have a way of connecting with the reader so that we feel as though we are inside their heads, hearing their thoughts, seeing the world through their eyes. I thought long and hard about how I wanted Alice, the protagonist in THIN AIR and FRIENDLY FIRE, to express herself. Since she was an ageless air spirit, I wanted her voice to reflect this. I deliberately crafted a slightly antiquated, whimsical, “fairytale” voice with which she could tell her story. If she sounded too modern (even though she is an 18-year-old girl), it would be difficult for the reader to buy into the problems she encountered trying to fit in with the human world. She needed to be a bit out of step, but not so much so that a reader couldn’t connect with her.
This brings us to the idea of connecting with the protagonist. A strong protagonist is one that the reader can identify with. This doesn’t mean that the reader has to admire every aspect of the protagonist’s personality. It also doesn’t mean that all of the protagonist’s experiences must have a direct connection to the reader’s life. A strong main character does, however, need to touch the emotional core of the reader. Alice, the protagonist in my novels, isn’t even human at the start of the story—she’s an air spirit—but the embarrassment and anxiety she experiences whenever she fails to conform to human society’s expectations is probably something we all can relate to. Haven’t you been in a social situation where you don’t know the rules?
Lastly, a strong protagonist must show growth, or change, as a result of the circumstances she is forced to confront. The main characters with the most impact are the ones that surprise us with their hidden resources and ability to meet every obstacle head-on. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel fear in the face of danger; far from it. Readers embrace protagonists that are able to set aside their fears and deal with the problems at hand. A truly strong protagonist doesn’t have to demonstrate strength 24/7. Rather, she must show that each of us, however ordinary, has a wellspring of fortitude from which to draw upon when confronted with our own challenges. It is in this way that strong, well-developed protagonists inspire us to reach farther and dig deeper when adversity strikes.
Though their love remains strong, the pressure of constant danger has taken its toll on Alice and Daniel’s relationship. Paralda’s assassins continue their murder spree in New York City, targeting girls who resemble Alice in an effort to fulfill the air king’s deadly directive. As if life wasn’t complicated enough, the couple must also fiercely guard the secret of Alice’s emergent powers and true identity from everyone--including their closest friends--to protect her safety.
Enter Ash and Terrance: two former elementals, each with their own set of reasons for transmuting to the human plane. For Ash, the material realm represents freedom and the possibility of fulfilling a forbidden wish. Terrance has only one aim in the mortal world: to win Alice’s heart. And it seems he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goal.
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