Character development is probably the only way to make a protagonist that is someone else than a flat or stock character. However, this takes time and results in a slower pace of writing, like a stew that must simmer for hours. As the author describes how the main character deals with conflicts in their real world the story is not driven by the danger of the type of conflict, but it traces how this person responds to everyday irritations and tragedies.
The goal of the writer is to absorb the reader with the life of the main character. They should feel concern for their struggles, compassion for problems, and the more common that these struggles and problems are, the more that they strike close to home. The reader’s wish is to watch the birth of hidden strength or a secret heroism in someone like themselves.
The slowly developed character can grab the reader’s attention using a few different techniques in early scenes. One is to introduce an incongruity. For example, the guy works as an auto mechanic but in a conversation with a customer, he reveals an understanding of quantum physics. It is important not to say that he is a genius working in a position beneath his ability but to show it. A character that is interesting but not completely predictable, is worth reading about.
Also, a good writer doesn’t cannot just grab the reader’s interest and drop any mention of the dichotomy after that point. It needs to be part of the story and a source of growing tension. Another technique to increase tension is to introduce the conflict early but not reveal the problem in its entirety. Diving into only one aspect at the start allows the conflict to continue to grow in order to keep the reader’s attention.
The enduring popularity of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable, is based on such a main character. Jean Valjean has criminal past and is a hulking, intimidating man, someone to fear physically. Yet, the trials interspersed with rare forgiveness that he experiences lead him to be a kind and gentle person. This transformation does not get rid of his problems, but only creates a dichotomous tension that follows him throughout his life. The slowly developed character, such as this is difficult to master. But, as they grow they dominate the story in a way that turns it into a memorable one in the mind of the reader.