The number one reason I stop reading a story is because I just don’t care. I don’t care if your protagonist lives or dies. I don’t care about the stakes. I don’t even really understand who they are. I’m sure a lot of readers are like me in that way. They want to feel emotionally connected to the characters in some way. They want a reason to keep reading.
If you’re finding your protagonist isn’t that interesting or you don’t know how to improve the way you’re writing them, try these tips:
Start Right Away
Don’t make your readers wait to find something to care about. Get your message across as quickly as possible. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What’s threatening what they want? There are subtle ways to let readers in on your protagonist’s life without giving away everything at once, so don’t info-dump. Most people will stop reading if there’s nothing something interesting happening within the first chapter. This doesn’t mean there needs to be tons of explosions and death—we just need to understand what the deal is.
Make the Stakes Reasonable
The stakes can’t be too low or too high. I know this sounds confusing, but it needs to be something the reader can fully grasp. The stakes should directly impact the protagonist in some way. In other words, readers aren’t going to care too much about your protagonist being 5 minutes late to work. They’re also going to have trouble caring about a fictional planet light-years away being destroyed. You need to give us a reason to care and have the stakes match the tone of the story.
Give us a Reason to Like Them
Protagonists need to be likeable in some way. I’m sure some writers would argue with me on that, but I need a reason to root for the main character. Sure, there’s such thing as an anti-hero, but they usually have some redeeming qualities. Let your readers know why your protagonist is a decent person. Do they have family they care about? Are they protecting something? Why should we like them? Take some time to focus on these questions.
But Don’t Make Them Too Good
Flaws are very important if you want readers to care about your protagonist. A “too perfect” protagonist is very annoying and won’t feel real. Give them some flaws that explain their sometimes less-than-perfect reactions to situations. Are they too quick to act? Are they sometimes a little selfish? Do they crave power in some way? No one in this world is flawless, so your characters shouldn’t be either.