Your protagonist. Who are they? What are they?
A lot of things have gone on this week in the life of Matthew W Harrill, horror writer. Many negative, but with hope for the future. All designed to put me off of coming up with a subject for this week’s blog. That is until I asked a question of my mentor about splitting a series by female protagonists. His response was to look for the male POV so that the guys have someone to root for. The stat is that roughly a third of men don’t like a female protagonist.
Now that makes me think. What do I get from a male protagonist that can’t be done by a woman? So far, while my sales (when I have some) have not exactly set the literary world alight, I am getting consistent reviews from readers enjoying my work (if you have not read my books – why not? You are reading this, take that extra step). These reviews come from men and women alike. In fact, the only time I have had someone complain in a review about the lack of a male POV came from a woman.
That brings up a very important point. Sometimes people read a book, and review it based on what they expected from the protagonist, what they wanted to read. Some people have gone as far as to say Eva isn’t very sympathetic, and that is fine too. I made her that way. My argument will always be that as said by some very famous writers, we write for ourselves.
Some people will just take what they want from any situation. My own son, bless him, recently phoned me up with some ‘bad’ news, expecting a dressing down. Instead I discussed his options, and he came away convinced I had still told him off. Some people see what they want to see.
Now, when creating my protagonist, the very lovely Eva, what did I look for? Strength – definitely. If any of you ever have had the pleasure of meeting the very lovely Ewa Glowacka, my inspiration for Eva, you would find a beautiful woman with strength and will in abundance. Your protagonist needs to be strong. They will hop from dilemma to dilemma as they pass through your tale.
In real life, seldom do we ever experience such hardship, physical or emotional. But don’t make them impervious. They do not have to be physically strong, but have a mental toughness to endure adversity. No matter what they are like on the outside, it is doubtful you know of any person who has no vulnerabilities at all. Your protagonist will have to address their vulnerabilities in order to better themselves. For why else are they on that journey?
In short, never make them perfect.
Now this brings me to think: ‘Could Eva have been written as a man?’ I have to concede the possibility yes, although many of the circumstances would have appeared differently. There is an attitude that accompanies the individual and the place in society which they inhabit. Eva is married, in a relationship that is somewhat strained due to her husband’s jealousy of her intellect, and seemingly under control by those at the place she works, her life being tugged in several directions.
There is nothing to suggest a man couldn’t have done the job as well, the situation being slightly different. The problem with that would be one main issue for me: I always wanted to write a female protagonist. There are plenty of heroic men in the world. In all honesty the thought never occurred to me.
Could Eva have been Evan? Maybe.
One could argue that women have in literacy a greater opportunity to grow and develop. Ooo watch out! That could be a contentious statement! I’m not really one for those ‘literary’ stories where the pretty, helpless damsel has to decide which of three gentleman suitors is the best one to marry. Bleurgh. That is a gender stereotype that can be left in the last century. Similarly, the ‘everything is perfect’ scenario I find a bit distasteful, unless they lose everything and then have a reason to better themselves.
Look at Lara Croft for example. Gorgeous, intelligent, multi-lingual, privileged, tough. She is a superhero in human form, but there really isn’t any way to better herself. She has well and truly plateaued and her only entertainment is hunting bizarre relics. I love the tomb raider films, but there is no development. The truth is I find as a writer, that women are more interesting to write about because the opportunities are more.
So make your protagonist flawed. Make them full of idiosyncrasy, of odd habits, of distinct flavours. Give them character in abundance. But above all, make them unique, make them different. If your protagonist is bald, and sucks on a lollipop… Chances are somebody will notice…