How to Write a Convincing Protagonist: The Beginning of Building Your Story

I have a confession; when I started writing, I thought about the action and the scenes. What would my protagonist DO, what was her path to the end, what would HAPPEN to her? Not once did the thought of ‘what does she feel’ pop into my head. It’s a little insane when I think back on how I wrote my protagonist in the Praetorian Rising Series. How did I manage to insert the emotions and depth that I did? Well, the first answer is that I spent eight years polishing and perfecting that book. What is impressive to me is that after I published my first book, it was only then that I realized WHAT I’d done without even recognizing that I did it. 

Camille Scipio, Praetorian Rising
If I could choose any actress to play my Protagonist right now it would be Annalise Basso.

There are authors and writers out in the world that just get it. These creative minds write with the flow and ease of a veteran, inserting depth and emotion for the readers to fall in love with the protagonist they are following. They understand the path and decisions their lead character must work through as though it were THEM in the protagonist’s shoes. This structure is what I accomplished in my first book, Praetorian Rising. However, in book 2, I had no idea how to replicate what I had accomplished in book 1 without digging a little more into the details of WHY it worked.

It took a while and a lot of digging through what the ‘professional’ writers all said, but I boiled it down to a single take away. 

Before you begin your story, you MUST understand your character’s internal struggle, as well as the point of this tale. Without knowing WHO your protagonist is, your readers won’t be able to establish an emotional connection to a character who walks around experiencing actions. There needs to be depth, emotion, struggle, frustration, acceptance, and overcoming the internal anguish your protagonist experiences. This is the main goal and the main point of any good story. What do you feel when you read it? How does it affect your life? Any good book MUST touch you in some way resonate with you long after you’ve put that book back on your shelf to admire. 

I find Writing Practice works very well when I write by hand. It enables me to slow down and think through what I am saying. It also gives me HUGE respect for every author out there that wrote a book without a computer or typewriter!

Some helpful hints to achieving this ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my protagonist afraid of at the start of this story?
  • What is my protagonist’s main fear, and what pushes them out of their comfort zone? (Here is where your story takes off. Your protagonist will go from ground zero of their life to the next adventure!)
  • Where does my protagonist’s internal fear stem from? (this will be an event that happens before the story even begins! You need to dig deep and build a backstory to the specific moment your lead’s mindset changed.)

Understanding these simple questions, and being able to answer them as your protagonist would think of them is the key to a strong lead character. It’s also the key to getting your readers to care about who will be the champion of your story. 

Here is my challenge for today: Write the scene where your protagonist’s fear (internal struggle) stems from. This moment will be an excellent way for you to dive into the mind of your lead and fully understand the moment their mindset shifted to a focus. 

Here is an example: Say your story is about a boy who hates intimacy and doesn’t like to be touched. This statement is broad, but it’s an excellent start to a possible book. Your story could be about how your protagonist can overcome his intimacy issues. The fear of intimacy must stem from somewhere. Perhaps as a kid, his older brother would always hug him and put a sticker on his back then would tease him and laugh at him with his friends at school. This harshness caused our protagonist to associate teasing and feeling like a loser to showcase intimacy or affection. He, therefore, decided that he didn’t want to indulge in intimacy with anyone because they would indeed laugh at him.

Now what to do? Write that moment, that single flicker of thought that wormed its way into your protagonist’s mind. When did the fear start, and why? This writing challenge will help establish a base of emotion for your protagonist. 

Ready to get some writing done, let’s do this!

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