In yesterday’s post I talked about how I got to hear Donald Miller speak at an event, and specifically, about how he mentioned the idea that protagonists always need to be “walking into fear” in order for stories to be compelling. Just as an exercise, I’ve generated a list of some of my favorite heroes and protagonists. Alongside each name is the object of fear they were walking into. I didn’t limit myself to just characters found in books, and I didn’t limit myself to just “serious” stories either. Protagonists of comedies walk towards fear just as much heroes from dramas.
Luke Skywalker – Faced the most evil and powerful force in the galaxy as well as secrets from his family’s past
Harry Potter – Faced the most evil and powerful force in the world and tracked down his parents’ killer
Frodo Baggins – Walked directly into the heart of the most evil and powerful force in his world and carried with him an object his enemy desperately wanted
Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster from “Psych” – routinely tracked down killers with the local police and always put themselves in harm’s way
Richard Castle and Kate Becket from “Castle” – routinely tracked down killers and put themselves in harm’s way
Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451 – breaks the law and risks his life when he starts to question societal norms
Will Ferrell’s character, “Harold Click,” in “Stranger than Fiction” – when he falls in love he leaves the safety of his calm, ordered, predictable life to chase the girl and to discover the mystery voice inside his head
Tom Hanks’ character, “Joe Fox,” in “You’ve Got Mail” – he’s an uber-successful businessman who could have whatever he wants, but in order to win the love of his life he has to do two things he’s never done before: 1) swallow his pride, 2) ask for forgiveness
This is just a list from off the top of my head. If I was standing in front of my bookshelf I could probably think of many more. I’m sure you can too.
Writers, here’s the question to ask yourself: Is my protagonist walking into fear? If not, why not? (Because I’m sensing you’ll need a really good reason…)