The Psychology of Protagonists
Here’s the reality; as writers, we’re often prone to writing characters who are just like us. Even in the characters that we design to be different, we’ll still find similarities between ourselves and those character we’d hoped to be the antithesis of ourselves. And while we’re often able to borrow from archetypes and stereotypes for villains and foils, how often do our stories feature protagonists who, aside from some physical differences, resemble us almost exactly? Too often, I believe.
Or maybe we design our protagonists to resemble who we want to be, but aren’t. In this case, we’ll still see far too much of ourselves in our heroes.
It is the nature of the beast. “Write what you know!” our teachers tell us. And who do we know better than ourselves?
But I’d like to challenge you for a minute. How about crafting a story around a character that is truly different than you. Not just in physical appearance, not even necessarily in gender. But one who truly thinks differently than you, who lives their life in a way you wouldn’t. This doesn’t mean that you need to write about some unsavory fellow, but maybe the home-body, non-risk-taker features a go-getting adrenaline junky sky-diver. Maybe the high-school nerd who was bullied every day, features a jock for a hero, and not one that defends the weak (as you might be tempted to write), but one who is relatable for a different reason.
The goal here is to think like someone else. What rules govern their psyche. How did they become these people? Why do they make the decisions they do? I’m not talking about simple differences here—different job, different tastes in music, etc. I’m talking radical differences—world-view, morality, decision-making, risk-taking.
Here’s a great link to learn about the different personality types. These should give you a good idea of how different people think, how they view the world, where they’re comfortable, where they’re uncomfortable, etc. Take a minute to figure out which type you are, then find one that’s drastically different than yours.
When you build characters, be sure to include what personality type they are. It will make a difference.