Writing Discussion

Memorable Male Protagonists

I’ve been having trouble with a particular character lately. I seem to have lost a feel for his personality. His original motivations no longer apply in the context of the story so I need to do some revision.

Since last week I asked you about female characters, this week, in an attempt to solve my character dilemma, I’ve been trying to contemplate the characteristics of those memorable male protagonists. In the end I came up with a list.

These are not necessarily my favorites, but memorable:

  • Logan – from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. He’s, big, ugly, crude, actually kind of pathetic until a switch goes off and he goes berserk. Out of all the characters in the series I found he was the most sympathetic. He understands the necessity of fighting along with others, and makes efforts to get along.
  • Paul Atreides / Maud’Dib – from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Expertly trained in fighting and politics. He’s relentless in his goals and manipulates people around him to achieve what he wants. Yet, he questions himself. He is self-aware and knows how precarious his position is.
  • Jamie Fraser – from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. He’s honest, He tries to do the right thing (even if it doesn’t always turn out that way). He’s educated and speaks several languages. He’s not the best fighter and he gets hurt both physically and emotionally. He’s loyal and he loves with abandon…. um actually…I would want to marry this man if he were real… LOL…sorry that was not very objective was it?

What are some of your memorables? Or what are characteristics would you like to see in a male protagonist?

9 Comments

  1. Well, haha, I think it’s pretty clear (from your list) that you can have a wide variety of personalities and still have appealing characters. I think the thing that stands out to me is having clearly defined personalities — so they seem REAL. I think that’s the key.

    I’m kinda struggling with my WIP too, because the motivations and backgrounds of my two main characters keep evolving. I guess I really need to get them set in my mind before I can confidently throw them into these situations.

    1. I think that’s part of my current dilemma too. Do I keep going? Or will they change yet again? Sometimes I think I just need to get to the end first and not worry about it until I reach that point, but I’m not 100% confident.

  2. You & I have the same troubles. I think I may need to sit down and write a short piece from his POV to see what lurks in side. The reader only sees him from the protag’s perspective and she is a bit self-centered.

    Okay, I am a huge fan of Hadrian Blackwater from the Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan. It’s a series, but I can’t spell the name, so you get the first novel’s title. He is pretty much like Jamie from Outlander.

    1. That’s a good idea especially since the main story is never in his POV. Hmm I may try this as well, write a little bit of back story purely for my reference, and see if it will trigger a better understanding.

  3. I am toying on whether to start on it or not. When I do I will tell you how it went. So far I am afraid to start writing. It is stress related. But tomorrow I am featuring it in my program. Four days have been enough.

  4. I tried to spend some time thinking about this one. My first answer is Taran of the Prydain Chronicles. The traits in him that I most identify with are, first, his questing, curious nature: he wants to know the truth of things, and he wants to find the answers himself. And secondly his generally altruistic nature. That’s a lot like me, I think.

    A lot of people don’t seem to like characters that are truly altruistic, and that’s kind of sad, I think. I don’t think that a complex, multi-faceted, interesting character necessarily means that he or she can’t be altruistic.

    Other favorites include Sam Gamgee (whom I consider every bit as protagonistic as Frodo), and Rand al’Thor as portrayed in the first three to five books of the Wheel of Time (what he becomes later in the series is difficult to relate to, and he kind of ceases being a “character” or “protagonist”, in my mind), Ebenezer Scrooge (he may be a little extreme in his archetypal portrayal of miserliness, but his change of heart is the quintessential archetype of a character transformation), and Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island.

    1. I think people can be suspicious of altruistic characters in fiction (and in real life). I don’t think I’ve read any books with altruistic characters. Perhaps the closest I’ve seen are characters preoccupied by moral code. Lately, all the stories I’ve read have been pretty dark. I don’t know if that’s a new trend but I’m not sure what happened to all the ‘good’ guys.

  5. I think there’s a distinct difference between a character preoccupied by moral code and one that’s genuinely altruistic. For example… Sturm Brightblade would be a good example of a character preoccupied with moral code.

    Altruistic characters are just those that really believe in doing the right thing, in which the right thing is not always codified. I cited Taran as an example of this while thinking of the scene in one of the books in which he nurses an injured gwythaint back to health, even though until this point he has only encountered gwythaints as creatures used by the bad guy of the books. In other words, he follows his heart.

    I think the reason people often don’t like altruistic characters in their fiction is most often either because they associate altruism with a rigid moral code (and have some negative connotations with such a code) or because we live in a jaded and cynical society in which we don’t believe that other people would do things to benefit others with no expectation of reward, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    I’ve noticed the general trend toward darker characters. Sometimes I dig it (i.e. like the new, darker Batman under Christopher Nolan’s directorship), but as an overall trend, I think it slowly saps the humanity out our of characters when we remove from them any vestiges of altruism.

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