The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass/Protagonists vs. Heroes

Fire in Fiction MaassDonald Maass states on page 9-10 in Chapter One of his book, The Fire in Fiction, that there is a difference between a protagonist and a hero. “A protagonist is the subject of a story. A hero is a human being with extraordinary qualities. A protagonist can be a hero, certainly, but isn’t always. Quite often in manuscripts the protagonists are ordinary people. They may face extraordinary circumstances in the course of the story but when we first meet them they, in effect, could be you or me.” He talks about how to have a reader’s heart open to the protagonist as soon as possible, in the “early introductory moment.”

How can writers create a bond between readers and the protagonist? Maass says, “…it is necessary to show your reader a reason to care.”  The character has to demonstrate a quality that is inspiring. “…signal to your readers that your protagonist is worth their time.”

On page 19, he tells us, “Find the secret strength in your main character, and it won’t matter whether you are working with a hero or an anti-hero. Your readers will bond with both.” If the protagonist is an ordinary person, showing a strength is important and needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. (page 33) The strength “can be as simple as caring about someone, self-awareness, a longing for change, or hope. Any small positive quality will signal to your readers that your ordinary protagonist is worth their time.”

I checked my first five pages of Norman in the Painting and on the second page, Jill buys a homeless man a takeout breakfast. I’m relieved I have her caring about someone since she is an ordinary person. I can check off the first point Maass made in The Fire in Fiction.

(page 33) If your protagonist is a hero, already strong, “Find in him something conflicted, fallible, humbling, or human.” The flaw needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. “Be sure to soften the flaw with self-awareness or self-deprecating humor.”

Is your protagonist an ordinary person or a hero/heroine?

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