Lately, I’ve been thinking about protagonists.
Those of you who know me in “real life” know that Young Adult fiction is, by and large, my favorite literary genre. This is partly because of my work with young readers, but it is also due to the detailed characterization that seems to be exclusively found in YA books. Not to say that there aren’t brilliant characters in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, for instance. Good YA novels just make me wonder about the protagonist long after the book is completed.
I hope Katniss Everdeen’s nightmares no longer keep her up at night. I hope Eleanor and Park find their way back to one another. I hope that Hermione Granger makes the wizarding world more accepting of those from muggle families.
I am a rational adult and I know that these are pointless wishes. I am reminded of Peter Van Houten in The Fault in Our Stars who screams that characters cease to exist the moment the book ends. But my favorite characters still lurk in my mind like beloved friends.
Now that I am working on a YA novel, I desperately want to emulate the writers and books I love. I want to create a protagonist who is multifaceted and admirable.
But it’s really, really hard.
I’ve found numerous character building templates online where the author decides on everything from their character’s physical appearance to their socioeconomic status to the foods they like and dislike. I’ve filled a few of these out but, in the end, I feel silly. I just want to write and, if I write well, shouldn’t characterization come naturally?
When I finished my favorite books, I knew the protagonists so well that I could likely predict the choices they’d make in any situation. It’s strange, then, that I can’t do the same with the characters I conceive.
Fellow writers, help me out. Do you know your protagonists in detail before you put pen to paper, or do they form as you write?