Creating A Protagonist With Dark Secrets

Writing a fiction novel, staged in 2021 in Southern California is completely different from writing Young Adult fantasy. I had planned to create a main character who is not perfect, to not only extend the tension within the story, but also, because it’s important for the entire plot.

That means, I literally created a flawed protagonist. Flawed, but still sympathetic; imperfect, but still loveable.

I read plenty of books where I enjoyed reading about flawed characters. Some of them have dark secrets that are revealed. I didn’t want my protagonist to be perfect! Far from it… but then, that particular dark secret is a crime. How much of a disadvantage is that for the story?

There are quite some flawed famous beloved characters in history:

Elizabeth Bennett, protagonist in ‘Price and Prejudice’. She’s loveable, an independent and proud woman of her time (within permitted limits)… but she’s prejudgemental and a bit too arrogant at times and needs to work on herself to correct her. Do we love her less for that?

John Blackthorne, protagonist in ‘Shogun’. He’s good looking, even though the Japanese protagonists within the book call him ‘Barbarian’. He is highly intelligent, a strong and resilient character… but he sacrificed his entire ship crew except seven or eight of them, to fulfill his need for adventure, and he cheats on his wife. Do we love him less?

Indiana Jones. Our hero, our fighter for the good, against an entire military-power behind the ‘Fuehrer’… He loses as many times as he wins, but he would never give up. He’s flawed, vulnerable and still we love him.

John Wick – an absolutely deadly assassin, who comes out of his retirement to get back to the ones who killed his dog. He mows his opponents down by the dozen again and again – and still, we would do anything to keep him alive.

There are many more examples, but I’ll leave it up to you who you would add to the list. (Please, leave your favorite flawed hero in the comments, I’m curious)!.

But can we love a criminal character? What is it that makes our character interesting? The flaws, the humor, the mood, the attitude… but a crime?

Now, am I crazy to worry about that? Without the crime there would be no story, and still I ask myself, ‘what is everyone going to think about this protagonist’? Will the readers still love that character as much as I do? Oh yes, I grew up like that, always considering how things look like to others. But in my book; in my story? (Yes, I know, talking about crimes and John Wick, it might seem a bit narrow-minded to worry about my little character and story. But I can’t help myself. It’s my work, and it’s upon me to tell the story, right?)

Let me know your thoughts on a flawed protagonist.

Picture courtesy of IndieWire.com

9 thoughts on “Creating A Protagonist With Dark Secrets

  1. When a character in a story is presented as either all good or all bad, then I feel as though we’ve crossed the line from fiction to fantasy. Every human being is a mixed bag. I appreciate it when a fictional hero is presented as having flaws, and when a fictional villain is presented as having virtues. It makes the story far more believable and relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate it. You did remind me that I might probably add a couple changes in the villain… I know I don’t like him, but he’s a bit too unilateral. Thanks a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, it really depends if the character mind their own business or not. Even if they’re a criminal, do they go out of their way to hurt people? I might not agree with someone like that in real life, but they work for me on paper if they have some type of moral code. That’s just me, though!

    Liked by 1 person

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