How Not to Write a Male Protagonist

How Not to Write a Male Protagonist

By on Nov 30, 2016 in Fiction, Writing & Editing

Protagonists have a key role in a story. They need to drive the story forward, they need to be active instead of reactive and they should be many other things to satisfy the needs of a story. Male protagonists appear deceptively easy to write and because of that, many times the protagonist’s characterization suffers as a result. It is also easy to assume that female writers have an easier time writing female protagonists, and vice versa, because the writer spends the most time developing the protagonist as a character. However, that depends uniquely on the writer. Some female writers have an easier time spending time inside a male protagonist’s head, and in turn, there are male writers who prefer to write from female points of view. In any case, any writer can make mistakes when writing a male protagonist, and below, we have gathered some things that you should not do when writing a male protagonist.

1. Stereotyping

Gender based stereotypes can be the worst offenders when it comes to writing a male protagonist, or any male characters in general. You might be trying to avoid them, however, we absorb plenty of notions and, yes, stereotypes about how men and women behave without noticing it. So, just because your protagonist is male, for example, it does not mean that he would abhor stereotyped female tasks, or need to behave in a manly way. The best way to avoid this is to think of your protagonist’s personality and background. That way, even if your protagonist does show characteristics that are stereotypically male, you will have the background to show why your protagonist is like that.

2. Over compensating

On the other side of the coin is over compensating for stereotypes. In order to avoid giving your protagonist stereotypically male characteristics, you might end up on the other side of the spectrum and make your male protagonist feminine. You can avoid this by focusing on your protagonist as a character, and determine what defines him. There are many aspects of personality that you can explore without going into effeminate territory, and focusing on those will help you create a male protagonist that is neither stereotypically male, nor profoundly unmanly. For example, if men rarely talk about their feelings, do not create a male protagonist that does. Focus on the character’s nature, and you will be able to find the right balance.

3. No character’s arc

Age is also important when it comes to your protagonist. Usually, a younger protagonist will not have a fully formed personality, and as such, their character’s arc is a given. However, if your protagonist does not undergo a change throughout the course of the story, then the story does not affect him at all. In that case, how can you expect your story to have an effect on the readers? If you have developed your protagonist well, then you know what affects him most. Have him face all of his demons, problems that he did not wish to face, and you will see that a character’s arc will progress naturally for your protagonist. As such, you will create a story that is poignant and memorable.

4. Use women as scenery

In books where the protagonist is male, women are often treated as scenery. In other words, there are no strong women, with the exception of the possible female antagonist who is in turn a femme fatale that uses her charms to bewitch the male protagonist. Moreover, the male protagonist might often make stereotypical assumptions about women, in which case you will have your female readers cry out in indignation. This does not mean that you need to create a strong female character to compensate, of course. Create the characters that your story needs, and then work on how to improve upon them. Not every female character will be a love interest for your protagonist, and neither should they be damsels in distress that need rescue.

5. Avoid research

Your protagonist is a character first, with personality traits and background. However, that does not mean that you should not research a man’s psyche and behavior before writing a male protagonist. This is especially true if male characters do not come naturally to you while you write. Ideally, it would not matter whether you are writing from a male or female point of view. However, you should research how a man thinks, what a man would focus on in a situation, and how a man would approach a problem. Most often, men focus on the big picture, and approach their problems with logic rather than emotion, and what would make a woman cry would make a man angry, for example. The results of your research do not need to be taken as gospel because that is how you create the stereotypical character. However, you can use the results as a framework around which you can build the male protagonist’s personality and characterization.

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.


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