There’s a big difference between YA protagonists and real people.* I mean, besides the fact that one kind of person is made out of fiction. Protagonists are, well, proactive. They get stuff done, especially when they’re told not to. The more dangerous the better!
I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t think I’d make a very good protagonist. Just. well . . . I’ll show you.
First, let’s define protagonist. From dictionary.com
1. the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.
Got it? The main character. Usually our point-of-view character. They’re the characters we read about, are meant to admire, and who should inspire us.
Now let’s take an honest look at a real person** vs. YA protag.
Boyfriend admits he is a vampire:
Real person: freaks out, questions sanity, has honest-to-goodness mental breakdown and/or moves to Timbuktu
Protag: freaks out, gets over it, has more kissing scenes with vampire boyfriend
Real person: grieves, but lives with it
Protag: finds magic, resurrects friend, stuck hiding the dark truth for months until the friend discovers a love for human flesh, igniting the zombie apocalypse
Real person: eaten by zombies, dead (and/or a zombie)
Protag: thanks to childhood survival training and/or being immune to zombie bites, the protag lives to meet a love interest and find a small community of survivors; chaos ensues, but protag takes care of it
Radioactive spider bite:
Real person: dies a horrible death
Protag: BECOMES A SUPERHERO
Told to stop investigating a murder or There Will Be Consequences:
Real person: not even sure how to properly investigate a murder, anyway; stops and does lots of extra worrying; gets wrinkles
Protag: sneaks around, solves murder; police are confounded and embarrassed and send a fruit basket with an apology for the threats
Real person: calls 911
Protag: races inside to help
Sleeps with makeup on:
Real person: breaks out worse than puberty
Protag: retains beautifully clear complexion
Imminent death on all sides:
Real person: dies
Protag: finds another option
There’s this thing about protagonists: they don’t accept easy answers. They have little regard for their own lives when the life of someone they love is on the line. (That said, most protagonists have Plot Immunity.)
Yes, protagonists need to be real people on one level, because real people need to be able to identify with them. But remember what I said about protagonists inspiring us? Protagonists make decisions we could never make. They do things we might not be brave enough to do. They may even have unwavering loyalty for someone, or faith in something, or morals and ideals — and then writers get to test that resolve. (Muahaha.)
So . . . I gave you a few scenarios highlighting the difference between real people** and protagonists. Do you have any? Bonus points if you make me laugh out loud.
*When I was telling her about this post, Cynthia Hand sent me to look at E.M. Forester’s Aspects of the Novel, about Homo Sapiens vs. Homo Fictus. His is a much more serious look than mine. You should totally go read it.
**For the sake of this post, since there are many, many real people, I will use myself as the “real person” because I don’t mind making fun of myself. Other real people would, of course, react differently in these situations. This list is meant to be silly, but if I inevitably offend or hurt anyone, you have my deepest apologies.