Why a bad protagonist is actually quite good #writing #amwriting

I am a big fan of protagonists with dubious character traits. There is something about a blurry line that adds flavour and depth. In fact, if the protagonist was to stop and consider themselves, they might think they were on the wrong side of that invisible virtuous line.

So in short, I like my protagonists…to be bad.

Why is a less than perfect protagonist good?

If you are the kind of person who goes to the gym 5 days a week, then going 5 days a week is no big thing. BUT, if you struggle to go once a week, then 5 days in a row is pretty impressive! And so with our protagonist. The more reluctant they are, and the more doing something good or heroic chafes, the more interesting it is when they are finally forced to comply.

As a reader, the more confused you are about the protagonists virtue, the more the tension grows. Will they do the right thing? Are they capable of doing the right thing even? Or are they just too damn lazy?

And what about our antagonist? Are they wholly bad? Or do they have redeeming qualities? Do you empathise with them at any point in the book? Perhaps their behaviour has been abhorrent, and then you discover a terrible secret about their past that casts new questions onto everything they have so far done.

There is a certain fascination with a good guy who is not completely good.

And likewise with a bad guy who is not completely bad.

Writing Characters – Perspectives and POV #writing #amwriting

When you start writing a book, you have a number (okay a plethora) of things to consider. But one important consideration, is the number of character perspectives your book will have.

Perspectives and POV are often used interchangeably. For the purpose of this article:

Perspective = who (as in the character)

POV = how (style of showing the character)


What are the options when it comes to perspectives ?

We can write from a single persons perspective, two peoples, or many. Here are the main options:

  • Single – 1 protagonist
  • Double – combination of 2 protagonists (romantic)
  • Double – 1 protagonist v 1 antagonist
  • Double – combination of 2 protagonists e.g. friends or colleagues or family members (platonic)
  • Triple – 2 protagonists (usually working together), and 1 antagonist
  • Anything more than 3 – The cast of thousands…enough said

I use the term protagonist / antagonist loosely here because I personally love blurry lines between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys, and books certainly don’t need to have a stereotypical representative of either type. But generally, there is one character you root for more than the others, and the reader does need to feel some level of warmth or compassion toward them, and be able to identify with them.

How many perspectives is right?

It’s very much a matter of personal taste, but some pros v cons:

  • Single is simple, but it can be constricting because it has such a narrow focus on events.
  • Movies and TV shows often focus on multiple perspective and we are often presented with details of ‘stuff’ that is going on outside the MC’s (main character) field of view or knowledge. This hidden knowledge that we (the reader or viewer) knows about, but our MC doesn’t, often drives story tension. It provokes questions such as… What will they do when they realise? How will they react?
  • With single perspective, the tension is all in real time. You get the events (and shocks) at the same time as the character does, and so this might arguably submerge the reader to a greater extent.
  • Multiple perspectives, in any combination, allow greater freedom for the writer to build the world and add dimension. Possibly at the cost of depth for your MC, since the more character perspectives you have, the less time you can spend in any single person’s head.

The antagonist perspective? 

  • No book needs an antagonist, but it does need a source of conflict, which could be a person, but might equally be a disease, a war, a natural disaster, or even a financial or emotional concern.
  • If you do have a main antagonist in the story it can be nice to get inside their head and find out what their motivation is, and all antagonists should have a powerful motivation. Of course, there are plenty of ways you can reveal this information without giving them book realestate in terms of their own perspective, but it can add an interesting dimension, and it’s something to consider.

What are the styles for writing the character POV?

The Point of view is how we show that characters perspective.

  • First person – I walked along the path.
  • Third person – She walked along the path.
  • Close third person (Internal dialog for third person) – Damn it, I don’t have my umbrella!
  • Third person cinematic – Draws the reader in from a distance i.e. describe the room or scene.
  • Narrator / Omniscient – Knows everything. (unusual)

Whether you write in the first or third person, and no matter how many perspectives your novel may have, it’s essential to see all the character’s feelings. First person and close third person use internal thoughts to jump right behind the eyes of the character.

One of my favourite writing styles is using a scene transition from third person cinematic to close third person. I love the way that it spirals in, closer and closer, until you are sitting in the character’s skin.

There’s a great write up here on character POV [3rd person point-of-view].

Selecting a POV.

  • Most people can cope with third person (most commonly used style).
  • Some people are put off by first person (second most commonly used style).
  • First person is generally used for a single protagonist, and occasionally for two perspectives. I can’t think of any books that I have read from first person POV that use more than two perspectives (but happy for examples if you have read one!)

My writing style. I use a number of perspectives (more than 3), and I couldn’t write any other way. Movies and TV rarely focus on a single person, and I enjoy the flexibility of this style when writing myself (And If Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and George RR Martin can get away with it, as far as I am concerned so can I) But it’s definitely not for everyone. Many books do have more than one perspective. Two is certainly not unusual. Three or more is less common. I write in third person POV, but I use both cinematic and close 3rd person to zoom in and out.


I would love to hear what your preferred perspectives and POV for writing and reading is! And why you like it.

Arguing with a fool #amreading #amwriting

A wise old man once said that “arguing with a fool only proves that there are two.”

I came across this video a few days ago and I have played it about ten times since. When you are a writer, you never simply watch things and move on. If you are anything like me, then everything you come across in life gets analysed to death.

So, what do I like about the hapless wildebeest and their short but funny show…

I like the fact that it is short, and yet still manages to be powerful.

This got me thinking about long stories and short stories. I have read books of all lengths. I am just as comfortable with a well structured novella, as I am with the epic ten book series you can get in the fantasy fiction genre. I have seen both good and bad examples of both – the novella where you think ‘erm, where’s the rest of the story?’ and the fat novel that waffles on and on with out making any credible progress until you just want to shake the hero or heroine by the neck and demand they make a decision – anything just to move the damn story along.

I also like the fact that it is funny, and yet that does not detract from the depth of its sentiments.

I have read books from nearly every genre, and there is nothing more powerful than books that manage to make us both laugh and cry. I do like moody books, dark books even, and sometimes comedy is just never going to fit. When it does fit, and we balance the fun with a deeper message / theme / whatever it is you are trying to convey – then you have something very special.

Finally, this makes me think about people.

Sometimes when you read a book (or write a book), you stop and think ‘why on earth did they do that – that is stupid’, but we forget, that in life people (and wildebeests) can, and often are, blessed with moments of extreme and unfathomable stupidity.

It was writing a scene not long ago and someone did something ‘foolish’. After, I procrastinated the scene. Was it credible? In character? Can intelligent people have moments of ‘crazy’? Can our less mentally astute have moments of ‘genius’?

Throwing the odd spanner at our characters is what makes them interesting.

And sometimes you just need a little stupid doing what it does best.

Adding character depth with personality types

Our characters are the soul of our story. There are many routes we can take to adding flesh to our character’s bare bones, but I find personality type to be a fascinating option, which can add a ‘real’ dimension.

Whether you already have a personality type in mind, or you want to find one that fits your character, the following can help to pick out the traits you want.

Summary of personality types with percentage of population:

ENTP: (3%) The debtor / The Visionary. Mental sparing. Loves a challenge. The devils advocate. Straight talking. Gets the the heart of the matter. Gregarious. Cannot resist an intellectual challenge. Friendly and charming.

ENTJ: (2%) The Commander/ The Executive.  Born leader, with charisma and confidence. Ruthless, determination and drive. Unwavering self belief in achieving their goals. Bold, strong willed. Naturally take charge.

ENFP: (8%) The Campaigner / The Champion. Charming and independent. Loves connecting with people. Energetic, warm, passionate. Always finds a reason to smile. Free-spirit. Loves to talk about people.

ENFJ: (3%) The Teacher / The Giver. Politicians, teachers, and inspirers. Lead by inspiring. Genuine, radiate authenticity. Mesmerise their followers.

ESTP: (4%) The Entrepreneur / The Dynamo. The centre of attention. Risk takers. Energetic thrill-seeker. Metaphorical fire-fighters. Life of the party. Live in the moment. Live on the edge. Love to chat and joke. Playful.

ESTJ: (9%) The Guardian / The Supervisor. Hardworking and traditional. Strong sense of right and wrong. Community organiser. Love to organise things and people to a purpose. Conventional and factual.

ESFP: (9%) The Entertainer / The Performer. Born entertainer. Love the spotlight. Stylish. Spontaneous, fun-loving, and engaging. Contagious enthusiasm for life. Soul of the party. Involves others in having fun.

ESFJ: (12%) The Caregiver / The Provider. Popular and social. Conscientious helpers and generous with their time. Love to gossip and play host. Practical. Caring and eager to help. Social organisers.

INTP: (3%) The thinker/ The Architect. Inventive and creative, with a unique perspective and vigorous intellect. The philosopher, the architect, or the dreamy professor. Finds discrepancies in statements. Passionate innovators.

INTJ: (2%) The Mastermind / The Scientist . Imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, and amazingly curious. Logical. Analytical problem solvers. Confident. Thirst for knowledge. Reserved, serious, strategic thinkers.

INFP: (4%) The Idealist / The healer. Calm, reserved, shy. Seek to find the good in the worst people. Kind. Imaginative idealist. Non-judgemental. Artistic/ Poetic. Reflective, spiritual, and constantly seeking a deeper understanding of life.

INFJ: (2%) The Advocate / The Protector. Morally astute. Soft spoken. Use warm, sensitive language. Creative. Insightful about others. Reserved. Quiet and mystical. Listen attentively. Highly perceptive.

ISTP: (5%) The Craftsman / The Mechanic. Practical problem solvers. Love to build or create. Explore with their hands. Trial and error approach. Mechanics and engineers. Bold and practical experimenters. May appear reserved.

ISTJ: (12%) The duty fulfiller / The Inspector. Practical logic. Dedication to duty. Enforce order. No-nonsense. Upholder of the law. Hard working and persistent. Fact minded and reliable. Serious and conservative.

ISFP: (8%) The Adventurer / The Artist. Live in a colourful, sensual world. Non-traditional. Seek out beauty. Enjoy life, and go with the flow. Unconventional. Quiet and unassuming. Flexible and charming. Enjoy new experiences. May appear distant or aloof.

ISFJ: (14%) The Defender / The Nurturer. Industrious, practical and compassionate careers. Meet kindness with kindness. Humble and unassuming. Sincere. Social, but don’t want the spot light. Offer assistance with modesty.