Protagonists are supposed to be strong. They need to take charge of the scene, and not be passive little noodles. They’re part of what helps the reader get involved. The reader gets to know the protagonist(s) on a personal level. They hook the reader and drag them along.
So naturally the protagonist’s personality needs to be up to the challenge. A protag who is passive and lets everybody else do the work isn’t going to intrigue the reader (probably!). So they need a strong presence most of the time. Sometimes, that means being extroverted.
But sometimes, the hero doesn’t have to be outgoing and chock-full of leadership qualities. Sometimes the hero doesn’t even need all of the leadership qualities (I know some of mine don’t). But sometimes, the hero doesn’t need to be very outgoing at all.
Sometimes the hero can be a shy, quiet introvert.
I know I just said protagonists are supposed to be strong and take charge. But nobody said introverts can’t! They just do it differently than the extroverts. And that’s okay. It’s even better when, at the end of the day, their introvert-ness isn’t something to be fixed, something to be “cured.” A protagonist who is shy but who can do the same job of drawing in readers as extroverted protags is awesome, in my opinion.
Let’s look at one of the newest introverted heroes who does this. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander is our protagonist, and he is just about the nerdiest, shyest, introverted characters I’ve ever seen in a protagonist role. He keeps his head down, especially when he gets into trouble with Tina, and when Tina takes him and Jacob home with her, you can see his shyness right away around Tina and Queenie. He’s quiet, draws back a little. Definitely not much hero-material here, right?
Newt is shy and maybe a little awkward around people, but when you put him in his element, when you put him in his little case of magical, beautiful creatures, he opens up. He becomes a little less shy. We see his personality and charm. Behind his shyness, Newt is smart, and knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants.
And that is exactly what makes him the perfect hero for this film.
When his creatures escape, he is the best man for the job of putting them back. He knows exactly what to do (you all know this if you saw that mating dance scene ;) ). He wields his creatures to his and Tina’s advantage when they’re in trouble, and his knowledge of them saves their butts more than once.
More than that, it’s his quiet way of doing things that also makes him the perfect candidate for the protagonist role. His experiences with animals and his natural quiet, gentle personality make him the ideal person to approach a very scared and a very hurt Credence. The boy with an obscurous writhing inside him has burst, betrayed by the man he thought was safe. Now, he’s scared, and he’s trying to escape. Newt finds him curled up in a train station.
What does he do? Newt gets down, making himself small, and he speaks quietly, gently. Exactly as he’d do with one of his scared creatures. Being so shy and so absorbed in the magical creatures of the world made Newt a little bit of a misfit among others, but those traits and that knowledge are exactly what made him the best person to approach Credence. A quiet, introverted hero was the ideal person to approach a frightened young man. There was no “fixing” Newt’s introverted personality. It was his introverted personality that saved everyone’s hides.
And that’s okay! That’s awesome, really. Newt doesn’t dominate the story. But being an introvert, it allows the others (Tina, Jacob, Queenie) to step up beside him. Newt was the one to drive the story, but he stood side by side the others and let them help him lead. Especially when he was in a place he doesn’t know well.
Introverted protagonists can be every bit as heroic and complex and complicated as extroverted protagonists, as they can bring skills to the table extroverts might not have. But at the same time, it’s important we don’t “cure” the introverts. Introvertedness shouldn’t be “fixed” or “cured.” It doesn’t need to be (unless your hero is supposed to be more extroverted. I mean this only when it’s simply trying to “fix” being an introvert). We need the quiet heroes too. They’re just as important, and they can be just as strong and “take charge” as anybody else. Maybe they need to grow into those qualities. That’s okay, let them, but don’t let it “cure” what makes them them. Heroes can still be amazing heroes even when they’d much rather read a book to going out and inspiring the good guys before a battle.
Heck, I know I would. ;)
Do you have any introverted protags? :D How do they manage the daunting task of being the hero?
Images found via Pinterest.