As I read the books of my Indie colleagues, classics, and bestsellers, the reader is left with one thing: The lead character.
In most fiction, a lead character is a must-have. Why? Most of the time (except with some really clever writing) the story needs a point in which the reader can focus and extrapolate beyond to take in the rest. If the lead character cannot be identified early in the story, then many books dissipate into confusion.
Should the lead character be a protagonist? They are in most books and films. Usually, in medieval dark fantasy, (that I write) someone takes a stand for good, has weaknesses and flaws, emotion, and often experience great loss that motivates his/her actions. Bravery, self-sacrifice, and determination help define most lead characters.
But does the lead character always have to be a protagonist? No, and some writers can pull it off. I haven’t read many books with evil main characters, but a film example is “There Will Be Blood.” For those that say the title should have been “There Will Be Boredom,” I won’t argue. I believe that it won such acclaim because it followed the life of a non-nice guy, spiraling into loneliness and insanity. (As a film nut, I have a list of “favorite boring movies,” with “Reds” on the short list).
What does the lead character mean to the new author? Everything. Another example would be the early success of “The Sopranos” before I was too grossed out to watch it. If the audience didn’t “lock in” with the lead character Tony Soprano, then they wouldn’t tune in. I liked his visits to a psychiatrist for depression because so many people really wanted to kill him. To me, it was a different way to bring a gangster to the front stage; a man with all the problems of a modern family while living the life of organized crime.
My early editors of “Act of Redemption” emphasized that I must make Shevata a “lighter” character. (You’re kidding, right?) In the early drafts, she was a much darker character than she is now. (My goodness, all I can do is claim New Author status and “plead the 5th!”) They guided me in the right direction. As much as I wanted a strong female lead, there’s a difference between strength and darkness. It really doesn’t require a kick-butt for an effective lead character; a classic example would be the little Hobbit Frodo in LOTR.
New authors go forth and write something awesome and tell us about it. For fiction, your lead character doesn’t have to mow down the bad guys with a medieval lawn mower like Shevata does. In some way, your readers must connect with the lead character in order to carry the story.