The more I write in the fantasy and paranormal genre, the more I come to realise just how much impact my character’s personality can have on the quality of my story. And I’m not just talking about general character building either. Even a well-rounded and perfectly believable protagonist could have disastrous results; let me explain why.
In my novel, Chasing Shadows, the first thing to happen to my character is that she dies. That’s a pretty heavy thing to happen to a teenager. If teenage me were to die, I expect the first thing I would do is to have a panic attack, followed by hysterical crying, followed by acceptance. Honestly, I think that’s how grown-up me would react too! But that would make a pretty short manuscript and not much of an interesting one either, unless you’re into fantasy vignettes that explore the human experience. But I was never much into literary fiction.
So this is why it was so important for me to choose the right character for the task. She still needed to be a believable teenage girl or the audience would never connect with her, but at the same time she had to be tough enough to stand up to Death without losing her mind. I’d like to say I spent countless hours lovingly building Chloe as a protagonist through a series of in-depth character building exercises and re-writes, but the truth is, she came to me fairly quickly. I was quite lucky, you see, because the very fact that she is a teenager made the process a whole lot easier. It might not have been true of me when I was a kid, but there are plenty of teens out there who know no fear and that makes them the perfect age group for my character.
Still, I didn’t want Chloe to be a perfect action hero who has conquered her fear. Again, that would take away from her believability. So, instead, her bold attitude is portrayed as a side-effect of her pride and over-confidence; faults which she must come to terms with over the course of the novel. In the end, this combination worked out perfectly, allowing me to create a practically fearless protagonist who also had obvious flaws.
I’m curious to know if you have ever encountered this challenge in your own writing. I’m sure it will be most apparent to the authors of fantasy, paranormal, horror etc. How did you overcome this hurdle?