|Artwork by the talented Marsha Maklaut|
The protagonist has to be more than the main character of the novel. She must be the heroine. She needs to conquer her fears, rise above all adversity, and succeed despite insurmountable odds. By the end of the novel, the protagonist should contrast significantly with her pre-evolved self, introduced in chapter one.
When the protagonist steps onto the book's stage in her opening scene, she will be riddled with the conflicts upon which the plot is launched. It's important to present her in a way that makes the reader want to embrace her.
What happens in real life when you meet someone who is depressed? Or bitter? Or openly hostile with the world? Does she make you want to hang out with her, get to know her better? Probably not. Unless...you see yourself in her. If you can identify with her suffering, understand it in a way that generates a sense of camaraderie and puts you in her camp, then a relationship is born. The same is true in fiction.
Craft the protagonist with at least one heroic characteristic. No matter how damaged, afraid, prejudiced, or beaten down the character is, plant in her the quality she will need to succeed in the book's ultimate climactic scene. Find at least one way, in the first chapter, for the protagonist to show a glimmer of this quality.
We want to read about heroes and heroines. Hell, we want to be heroes and heroines. Give the readers a main character to cheer on. Let them see a little of themselves in the protagonist, a little of the hero inside. Believe me, they will keep turning the page.