Allow Your Protagonist to Fail

I have regular meetings with a friend who is probably one of the best people to talk to concerning story.  I recommend that every writer have a few people in their lives that they can talk to about writing.

My partner in writing crime is Jack Johnson, the artist who designed the cover of my latest book The Terminarch War.  It’s for sale at the right of this page…for a measly $2.99 on Kindle.  I DARE you not to buy it.

I have tried my local writing group, but unfortunately it is moderated by people much older than me, people trying to hock their latest book, and not people who are willing to invest in a real one-on-one journey to making better writing.  I’ll stick to my Starbucks hangout.

Lately, through actual conversation and through e-mail, Jack and I have discussed an intriguing idea about how to enhance the story stakes in our writing.  He challenged me to do something risky with my protagonist in the Five Rims series, who up until now has been wading through conflict after harrowing conflict.  Up until now the worst Guillermo has had to face is losing his arm (a few times…it’s cybernetic) and relationship trouble.

But what if he failed?  Not just fail, but fail so bad that he is scarred for life.  Jack put it to me like this: “He fights a big monster by punching it (no effect) hitting it with a bat (no effect) shooting it with a gun (just makes it mad) tries to set it on fire (ends up just burning himself badly) attacks it with an army (hundreds killed, monster grows by feasting on the carnage) and then ultimately retasks a massive battery of Low-Orbit Ion Cannons (take off and nuke the installation from space, only way to he sure)”

The idea of making a protagonist fail miserably, fail so bad that they sacrifice something precious and irreplaceable, is something I’m willing to try.  Jack challenged me regarding other plot devices as well, and I’ll be writing about those in the next few weeks.

For now, just think about how you could make your protagonist fail.  Think of the psychological ramifications of what that might do to the protagonist’s future dealings.  Think of what internal conflict could arise: self-doubt, fear of the same thing happening again, depression.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

2 thoughts on “Allow Your Protagonist to Fail

  1. Yes! It’s so important to have a protagonist who is able to fail; it’s the mark of a truly strong and developed character.

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