Thursday, September 4, 2014

What I look for in a protagonist

I hope everyone is having a fabulous September so far! I thought it might be helpful to those querying or looking to query me to give you a better sense of some of the types of protagonists I am drawn to...and not drawn to as much.

Female protagonists:

I admit I am generally drawn more to female protagonists than male, which probably is in part to me being a female :) (but I'd love to find some more boy-centric books too! See below.) and there are certain characters I find myself more interested in reading about than others. But, bottom line: if the story has an engaging voice, I could find myself reading almost anything.

I love to read about strong, independent female characters. I tend to shy away from stories about girls who depend on their boyfriends or significant others to be happy and don't have a life of their own apart from them. While, I love a good romance, I like to see who a character is apart from that.

I have a harder time relating to main characters who are fashion obsessed, too into their looks and social status. I wouldn't mind reading about a popular girl or budding fashionista in the least, but I want it to go deeper than the surface stuff. And I enjoy some scandal and fashion (i.e. Gossip Girl), but I want to relate to the characters in some way. So perhaps your main character is rich and seemingly has it all, but she longs to go to a public school and be seen  for herself not her background or wealth. That I can definitely get behind. Or she realizes being popular and all these things isn't so important. I love the Serena/Dan story line in Gossip Girl. Serena is not always the most likable and she makes mistakes, but there's more to her and I am a sucker for the star-crossed lovers story line. Dan is not part of her social group, he's seen as an outsider, yet they fall in love.

I would love to see something with a dancer (ballet, contemporary, hip hop etc.) or a budding filmmaker.

Give me a band geek (I was one myself) a kid into any of the arts, a kid who doesn't fit in, or an underdog and you've got my interest. I would love to see a girl who loves fantasy and sci-fi movies/TV and isn't ashamed of it. To add to this I've been loving novels like Eleanor and Park and Guy in Real Life. Give me a love story about two outsiders finding each other. There are so many love stories where even if the girl is a bit of a outsider she falls for the chiseled, tan star athlete and they end up together. I certainly can get into these types of romances, but two underdogs/outsiders getting together speaks to me on a deeper level.  Or a popular girl who falls for a "geek."

While I generally don't want a straight up romance (meaning the entire story is driven by boy meets girl, boy meets boy or girl meets girl and it doesn't go beyond that), I love when it's a part of the story in some way, but perhaps the main plot is a bit bigger than that.  One of my fave YA contemporaries is Perfect Chemistry. You have your starcrossed lovers and the romance is definitely central to the story, but it goes beyond that.  Alex is stuck in a gang and having trouble getting out which is another big part of the story. Brittany on the other hand seems like her life is perfect, but actually has a tough home life. So as you can see it goes deeper than just a romance.  Ok, I went a bit off topic here...back to protagonists!

I'd also like to see: a main character from another country now living in the US, characters of color, characters who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, characters struggling with their identity in any way, characters who perhaps are seen as outsiders by some because of their religion or beliefs etc.  Let's better represent all the wonderful cultures and backgrounds of the world!

Male protagonists:

I have a soft spot for "bad boys;" the misunderstood type, not the downright messing up on purpose all the time bad boys. So if your protagonist has committed 5 crimes, went to juvie and doesn't feel remorse or change it's probably not for me. But, if he was on the wrong side of the law and wants to change and works towards that, send it on over! It could even be the popular guy who is a bit of a womanizer but has changed his ways. I like some kind of edge, some kind of tough past that is turned around in some way.

Give me a guy who is a young Bill Gates (meaning he's really smart and perhaps fixes things or creates apps in his spare time or works on computers, a budding inventor) and is really sweet! Or maybe a guy who gets great grades and spends his spare time playing World of Warcraft with a heart of gold. I feel that some times really smart, sweet guys can be overlooked in YA for the tough, broody, guy.

The artsy guy: This guy has a passion for the arts. He's a musician, a painter, a sculptor, a writer, but whatever art it is he is all-in. It drives him. Think Adam from If I Stay.

I'm pretty open as long as this main character isn't overly shallow, a bad guy or a bully.

In the end, any character should be made up of many different parts. There won't be just one thing that drives them, or one part of their personality or one thing they're overcoming. It's how you combine those pieces that make the character. And it's how that character changes and grows throughout your novel that's also important.

I hope this helps some! This article is meant as a way to give you an inside look into what I'm drawn to. It's definitely not a call for anyone to write something using all the things I like above. You have to write what comes naturally to you! Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I'll answer what I can.


  1. This was interesting and helpful. How do you feel about alternating POV? With male and female? I guess Eleanor and Park would be an example, but my YA doesn't alternate every other chapter. Similar to Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King. One of my favorite books and a Printz honor. Have you read it? I see you're headed to my neck of the woods in April. Looking forward to hearing you!

  2. Thanks for this informative post. My 40,000-word dual perspective upper middle grade novel, I Rock; I suck features thirteen-year-old Jack, a Boston bad boy whose group home relocates to central Massachusetts, and Hope, a small town girl who seemingly has it all. They both long for the courage to reveal the role they each played in a parents’ death, but shame prevents them from doing so until a tragedy spurs them to reveal their secrets to each other. May I send the first three chapters to you as requested material?