These are two sides of the same coin:
On one side, you want your character to fit the story, and your protagonist needs to have enough at stake where they can’t just say “screw this, I’m done” when the going gets tough. The Joe Everyman type character doesn’t. Anyone stuck in that situation would take the same actions, regardless of their backstory or growth. They tend to be static characters, who are stand ins for the audience en masse.
Your special snowflake, however, is the only character this could ever have happened to. If they weren’t there, everyone would be utterly screwed-The people enslaved, the ship exploded, the ancient curse fulfilled, whatever. They doubt their own skills and have to be constantly reassured of their own fabulousness before others even have reasons to believe in them. Their backstory is a key plot point that they don’t know until it’s revealed, and they always get their love interest.
How do you walk your character along the middle?
Flaws- Their flaws need to not be plot driven. That is, their flaws can, and should influence the choices they make, but those flaws shouldn’t, on their own, determine the plot. For example- In Star Trek, Next Generation, Georgie La Forge is bad with romances with women. That gets him in trouble with Leah Brahms when the real scientist doesn’t fit the same romantic mesh as a holodeck version of her did. But it’s not the only thing that causes problems for him, and it’s more an entertaining bit of character development behind the bigger Plot of whatever is going on on the ship that episode.
Ego-They have to have just enough ego to not need others for external validation except at the Dark Moment. They don’t think they’re perfect, nor do the people around them. They’re not an ass about it, but they’re not a doormat. They don’t bounce like a tennis ball between the two, either.
Dynamic-Your characters need to have the right balance of reactive/active/reinforcing going on for where they are in the novel. At first, in most novels, the protagonist is making 1. an inciting choice, followed by 2. a reactive series of choices, then 3. an active choice that doesn’t do what they expect. Making sure that the other characters aren’t on the exact same beat at the same time in that process makes the conflict stronger. Let the love interest make an active choice that backfires when your protagonist is still in a reactive phase, and it reinforces how much is out of their control. If they’re both in active mode, making choices, then they could just talk it out like adults, and we all know that doesn’t make for a good story.
Uniqueness-Your protagonist can’t be the only person ever with This Power. If they are the last, that needs to come with some heavy baggage. The lost princess needs to be the last one because the antagonists have killed all the other heirs to the throne. She’s next, if they discover who she is. Also avoid anything with obnoxious false colored eyes or excessive sparkling. Make them the last, or the latest, or one of a few currently. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a lot of potential slayers, only one is called at a time. Well, usually.
Nanowrimo starts tomorrow. The #Pitchwars agent round is later this week. How did your revisions go, folks? Inquiring minds are dying to know, are you still editing, or taking time off for fresh Nano-driven words?
Anything you haven’t seen in this series and want, let me know! I’ll have more time in November, so you may see more varied posts. 😉