We think of characters as being people, but maybe we should widen our view and include more of the elements of our story.
Certainly it could include a variety of pseudo-people – vampires, werewolves and the ever-popular zombies. It could also include animals; not only the faithful canine companion but antagonist animals such as a marauding tiger or a shark.
Sometimes even the setting takes on the characteristics of an antagonist as the hero struggles against a snowstorm in the mountains or a vicious storm at sea. Read some of the classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to understand the personification of setting and of creature.
But mostly we think of characters as being people. We delve into our protagonist first, then develop the antagonist and lastly assorted supporters, annoyances and standers-by. Occasionally, to our horror, one of the supporters starts to take on unexpected dimensions and threatens to steal the story from the protagonist.
Oops. Time for some serious re-thinking. At the very least the protagonist needs to be beefed up. He or she needs to be given the muscle to take back the story. If he isn’t growing, developing, leading the way then you’ve missed something.
If he isn’t interesting to you, his creator, as much as that supporter interests you, then you need to go back and give him the characteristics he needs to take back his story. It started out to be his story. It has to stay that way.
Your main character has to own the story, be playing for big stakes and overcoming deep-seated fears or flaws. Usually he has a good sense of humor (even if it is a bit off-beat). Main characters are by no means perfect but they need courage to face whatever disasters you’re going to hit them with.
Above all, they have to create reactions in others – others being the other characters in the story and the reader as well. No matter how annoying or shocking they might be some other characters are prepared to help them. And that all-important reader has to be pulling for them too.
It might be that you see your character as a sort of everyman or everywoman. Someone just like you, someone who could be a neighbor or commute on the same train. But that ordinaryness must conceal deep feelings and a passionate need for something. He must have, hidden somewhere far down underneath his plain exterior, deep drives and dimensions that put him in charge of the story.
It is these, and his courage in working with them and through them, that create a strong protagonist. Once you have them in place for him no-one else can take over.
You have cast him in the lead role. You have given him all he needs to drive the story.