One major decision every author has to make when writing their novel is, “Who is the protagonist?”
It seems like a simple answer, really. You have a plot and you need someone to get out there and fulfill it.
Shall this character be a boy or girl? What do they look like? What’s their personality like? How would they react in certain situations?
All those questions describe a character. Not a protagonist.
Since it’s Mystery Month, we’ll talk about choosing the right protagonist in mystery novels.
However, when it comes to writing any novel, you have to ask yourself…
Why does this protagonist matter?
When thinking about a protagonist, you need to ask yourself: Will this character fit well into the story? Does this character wholeheartedly care about the plot? Will this character be affected by the plot if something good or bad happens?
Protagonists tend to be more complex than your typical character. Protagonists should have something to do with the plot and they should all have one trait in common.
There are two kinds of motivation: inner and outer.For example, if your protagonist is a detective, their outer motivation would be to help their client or the victim. However, if the threat is familiar to the detective whereas it happened to him personally before, his inner motivation would be for his own benefit.
For example, if your protagonist is a detective, their outer motivation would be to help their client or the victim.However, if the threat is familiar to the detective whereas it happened to him personally before, his inner motivation would be for his own benefit.
However, if the threat is one that happened to the detective or puts his job on the line, the inner motivation would be to save himself.
Say you’re writing a mystery novel where the protagonist…
- is the detective
- has a desk job at the police station
- is a victim
- is a criminal
- is a bystander
Each and every one of those characters, if they’re solving the case, should have motivation for one reason or another. And there are plenty of reasons, included below, but not limited to:
- The detective personally knows the victim
- The detective personally knows someone who knows the victim
- A similar crime happened to someone the detective used to know and he believes it could be the same criminal
- The detective wants to avenge someone
- The threat is aimed towards the detective
- The officer has all the reasons mentioned above
- The officer wants to move up in the ranks and solving a huge case would do it
- The threat happened to someone they knew and they want to put a stop to it
- The victim wants to take matters into their own hands
- The threat is ongoing
- One of his partners turns on him and he wants to get back at them
- The criminal is caught and, for whatever reason, helps the authorities
- The criminal is being a double agent as they try to solve a past crime taking matters into their own hands
- Their a witness to a crime
- They are accused of the crime themselves
- They know the person who the crime happened to and take matters into their own hands
When it comes to mystery writing, the crime or threat should be on the personal level with the protagonist. They should have an inner and outer motivation.
For one final example, in George Florence, the first book of my mystery series, George is the P.I., but Lilah is the protagonist.
She seeks out George to help her neighbor. Her outer motivation is to help her neighbor, but her inner motivation is for reasons personal to her that George doesn’t even know about right in the beginning.
Due to this, there’s a plot and a sub-plot that intertwine with one another that are both personal to Lilah allowing her to have multiple motivations for helping George solve the case.
What kinds of motivation do your protagonists have? Do you think it’s hard to come up with good protagonist who stay true to who they are? Let me know in the comments below!