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The good guy

By Jason Wong
On November 7, 2012


Since I wrote last week about bad guys, it seems only right that this week I turn my focus to good guys. This week's article will address the idea of the protagonist as a good guy. Unlike with your average bad guy, your average good guy tends to show more variation in character. Still, there are some traits that are more or less universal to the concept of the good protagonist.

One thing that most protagonists have in common is a driven nature. They are determined to accomplish some task; usually that task is a conflict in and of itself, or its achievement would be in direct conflict with some other task of equal importance. If the protagonist isn't driven, I'm not sure what advice I can give; who wants to read about somebody who'd rather stay home and surf Reddit rather than go out and be a hero? Frodo doesn't stay home to party in the Shire, and neither should any other protagonist.

On a related note, the protagonist's driven nature should derive from some interesting motivation. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - character is everything! Without interesting and compelling characters, the (otherwise) most well-written story in the world is just another rehash of the many plots that have been used. Take, for example, Garion in David Eddings' "Belgariad" series. The series is literally an exercise in epic fantasy tropes; it remains compelling because Garion, as a protagonist, is motivated.

After that, though, protagonists can and do vary by leaps and bounds. Some protagonists are heavyweight champions of the world, already established heroes in their own right and full of the confidence and skills necessary to save the day. Some protagonists are simply filled with compassion and/or bravery and the drive to do well by their fellow man. Others are naïve youths thrust into a central conflict with little to no choice in the matter. All of these base types of characters have worked in all manner of genre.

All of these are suggestions are templates that have worked before and may work for you. Ultimately, it's up to the author to decide what kind of protagonist is best. Maybe a dark hero or an antihero is best. Maybe the protagonist isn't an orphan, and grew up with two loving parents. Maybe the protagonist is a rehabilitated antagonist. 

In some ways, the protagonist should be defined by the conflict at hand. A protagonist should be human, which means that sometimes he or she will be spiteful, jealous or selfish. Somebody who is otherwise good may be tempted to evil for some reason, and there can be many reasons for this such as a sibling rivalry or believing something or someone they love is at risk. 

At the end of the day, the protagonist should be the most interesting person in your cast of characters. If he or she isn't, consider whether one of your other characters would be better suited for the honor.

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