Your Protag’s Biggest Problem

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

Your protagonist’s biggest problem isn’t the antagonist. It’s you.

As we breathe life into worlds and characters, they can’t help but possess our DNA. It’s unavoidable. What’s created in our own strength will include our weaknesses.

In a mythic sense, where we haven’t gone, our creations will stumble. Your protagonist’s vision will be clouded by your blind spots. If you strive for external validation, so will they. Their faith can’t transcend your experiences with God. Their courage will be diluted by your fears. And that tendency to be easily overwhelmed or controlling? Yep, your protagonist inherited that from you as well.

Sure, we can try to untether them from our issues. As novelists, we make things up all the time. But there’s a difference between making things up and faking it. Within our made-up world, we need to take readers on an authentic journey that mirrors the one we’re going through. The themes of our novels should be themes we are navigating in real life with God. In fact, I believe the most unforgettable stories hold within them the scars, struggles, and discoveries of an author’s own Story.

Otherwise, we’re asking our characters to live more powerful lives than we have. And were expecting our readers to dive into oceans while we remain safely on shore. But it doesn’t work that way. We end up passing our limitations forward like a baton to our waiting protagonists and readers, expecting them to run with a freedom we’ve yet to experience.

No matter how powerful your imagination, you really can’t tell a better story than you’re living. And your characters can’t know deeper faith, love, or adventure than you’ve risked and tasted in your own life. They can’t know God deeper than you do. And their definition of victory can’t exceed the definition you’re living by.

We don’t need stories that teach readers a lesson from us. We need stories that invite readers on a journey of discovery with us. What our protagonists and readers crave are stories with the spark of eternity in them. That happens as we co-create with God from a deep place of identity, intimacy, and imagination. Only then will our stories transcend us and the moment in time they were created.

We long for our art to take us to new and uncharted places but the blank page looks back at us and says, “No, you must go there first.”


Allen Arnold is the author of The Story of With, an allegory that reveals a better way to live and create through the doorway of identity, imagination, and intimacy. His mission is to help people actively pursue and transform their talent by discovering how to pursue it with God. As the founding Fiction Publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses, Allen oversaw the development of more than five hundred novels. He knows first-hand how common it is for creators to become disheartened, overwhelmed or burnt-out–as well as what it takes to help the dreams of writers become reality. In his current role at Ransomed Heart, he oversees content from the mountains of Colorado for the ministry. Before becoming a Board Member for ACFW, he was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his substantial contributions to the world of Christian Fiction.