In the second part of this series, we’ll take a look at importance of motives to the protagonist and the kind of aspects that makes a ‘good guy’ good.
Not only does the main character carry the story, he or she must move the story forward, and to do that you must establish motivation. There must be a reason the character is part of the story and why he or she acts or reacts to certain situations.
There are many possible motives for a protagonist, but let’s look at the most common ones found in novels, ones we universally recognise and understand:
Something to Lose
The main character has something or someone to lose, and the thought of losing someone close or something that means a lot to them is a dominant motivator. The fear of losing something forces the protagonist to behave in different and make certain choices, and they won’t care about consequences. If your child was in danger, for instance, you would move heaven and earth to protect them, no matter the risk.
This instinct should also exist within your main character – that they would do something that goes beyond what the reader expects is one of the things that makes a good guy ‘good’.
Secrets and Lies
Just like the antagonist, the protagonist may have secrets and may even lie at times to protect such secrets. That’s because they are not perfect. Like real people, they may have something to hide, a secret they don’t want anyone to discover, perhaps because they are protecting something or someone. It’s inevitably that they will lie to protect that secret, which the readers will be desperate to know, but they will also understand why the protagonist undertakes these actions.
A Past Incident
The protagonist’s past is a key component to who they are. Past incidents can shape what they do in the present. That could have been something like a betrayal by someone and the protagonist wants revenge, or maybe they discovered a family secret. Perhaps the main character witnessed something. Whatever it is, they are powerful motives for the good guy.
The Protagonist is a Target
For whatever reason, the main character is being pursued by someone – the antagonist usually – and this forces the story forward in interesting ways, because the motivation is survival. Not only that, it creates so much conflict because whatever the reason for being targeted, the good guy must not only survive, he or she must succeed in defeating the antagonist in return, which will keep the reader glued to the story to find out what happens next.
What are the Main Ingredients of a Good Guy?
They Have History
Everyone has a history, be it good, bad or indifferent. That means every protagonist should be affected in some way by their past; be it emotionally, physically or psychologically.
We all carry with us ‘life baggage’ and that’s also true for your good guy. He or she may be a little damaged in some way, but any weaknesses will help the reader identify with and relate to the character.
Their past may influence how they behave, so again it is important to remain consistent with the protagonist’s behaviour and actions to reflect this.
The Enable Empathy & Immediacy
The reader needs to connect with the good guy right from the outset. The reader needs to care about what happens to him or her, so your protagonist needs to be someone we can equate to, someone like us - an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. That creates immediacy and empathy with the reader. It makes the reader want root for the good guy, to succeed and defeat the bad guy.
It should be said that the main character doesn’t even have to be likeable. Just relatable. Someone the reader understands, someone they connect to.
They Act Bravely
Every main character at some point will do something that is brave, daring, courageous or completely surprising. Readers love to see the hero overcome the impossible – especially an underdog.
Bravery endears the character to the reader – it creates a kind of ‘feel good’ feeling and makes them root for the protagonist.
They Have Moral Values
Unlike the antagonist, who may not have a moral code top speak of, the protagonist will have strong moral values. That’s what makes him or her ‘the good guy’. In other words, they may believe strongly in being just and fair, or they might have a faith-based morality. Whatever their moral code, writers should always underscore this with how the character acts and reacts and to always be consistent with the character’s behaviour.
Having a strong moral code doesn’t mean the main character can look down at others from the moral high ground – no one is a saint. They just need to be believable and real and know right from wrong.
Readers will also the share the same ethical and moral outlook.
They are Not Perfect
No hero is perfect. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. This is true of your good guy. A main character that has flaws is a reflection of real people and so readers will easily identify with them, because they tend to see themselves in that character; their own flaws and faults.
Various Degrees of Conflict
Every story must have conflict, otherwise there is no story. And your good guy cannot exist without conflict.
Conflict comes in all manner of ways and be a multitude of things – conflict with the antagonist, conflict with authority, conflict with secondary characters, conflict within him/herself, conflict with the environment. Whichever one it is, the good guy has to face these seemingly never-ending obstacles and somehow overcome them as the denouement nears.
Readers love conflict – especially character conflict - it keeps them turning the page, so don’t neglect it.
Just like antagonists, your good guy should be complex and multifaceted and because of that, interesting and appealing to the reader. In the last part, we’ll look at some other interesting components that make up a convincing good guy.
Next week: How to Create a Convincing Good Guy – Part 3