Rachel Thompson

Diane Mulligan's #WriteTip on Making Your Protagonist Believable @Mulligan_writes #Women

How to Make Your Protagonist Believable

What makes a character believable? In a word: Flaws.

In real life, no one is perfect. We are contradictory human beings whose beliefs and actions are often out of sync with one another. We make mistakes. Sometimes we make the same mistake over and over. With any luck, we learn and grow. With any luck, we become better people. And while we’re improving in some ways, we’re probably picking up new flaws, too.

Our flaws make us not only human but also interesting. Think about it. Would you rather befriend someone who…

practices yoga daily, makes all her family’s meals from scratch, maintains a size-two figure, has a Jon Hamm lookalike for a husband, is on track to be president of the company where she works, and finds time to knit and do other homemade crafts on the weekends;


someone who doesn’t have time to cook between work and getting the kids to and from their activities so she brings home a pizza knowing that it’s bad for her paunchy husband’s cholesterol, but if he wanted to take care of his health maybe he could cook his own damn dinner now and then, and she promises herself she’ll only eat one slice but then she has four despite the fact that she really wants to fit back in her size-ten jeans by the end of February, but work has her stressed because they’re always promoting younger people and she’s afraid she’s becoming obsolete, and all she wants to do this weekend is hit the mall with her gal pals for some retail therapy and maybe some margaritas.

Be honest. You don’t want to befriend Little Miss Perfect. You don’t even want to stand next to her. You might want her life, but you don’t want to be her pal.

Of course, Polly Pizza, for all her flaws, may be believable without being likeable, and that’s a problem, too. Once you have a believable, multidimensional character roaming your story, take her a step further. Make her vulnerable.

How do you make a character vulnerable? Put her in a situation in which something she cares deeply about is in jeopardy. In that context, we see how her flaws shape her actions, her worldview, and her life’s path.

Remember, protagonists don’t have to be “good people.” They have to be believable and likeable. Showing the way a character acts in a moment of vulnerability can go a long way towards both.

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Genre – Women’s Literature
Rating – PG-13
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