Greeting, word nerds! I hope you and all of your characters are well! (Nix that last part; characters should not be well, but enmeshed in some sort of conflict, duh! :-P) While conflict is certainly a crucial element to any novel worth its ink, I’ll save that subject for another post. This post is all about the most important person in your story, your protagonist, and my next tip on how to make him or her resonate with readers.
Before I proceed, I’d like to point out that this series, like the one before, is primarily inspired by personal experience and not solely based off information acquired through years spent studying the craft of storytelling. I find that I prefer to hear authors’ own testimonies of failure and success, persisting doubts and prevailing courage, favorite advice and cautionary tales, as opposed to perfectly outlined lectures and wooden webinars in which the hosts present only the highlights of their literary experiences. I hope you feel the same way, because with this blog, writing from my heart is my M.O.!
Now back to today’s scheduled programming: your main character! Last week I discussed the first suggestion I received from my editor on how to make my heroine, Iris, more sympathetic and interesting to the reader. By giving attention to her interactions with the world – its smells, tastes, sounds, etc. – I was able to add flesh to her bones, thereby making her much more real, relatable, and root-for-able.
My next task was to consider this question, a question I invite you to mull over also:
“Is my main character specially qualified?”
Have you ever read a novel and found yourself wondering why in the world everyone is making such a fuss over the so-called hero? When I read Twilight, I kept asking myself what Edward saw in Bella – and it wasn’t because I was jealous! To me, there was nothing particularly compelling or likable about her. Unlike protagonists such as Katniss, Jo March, or Tris Prior, she didn’t possess any personality traits or special abilities that set her apart from her peers. She was a loner, a klutz, and got good grades. That was about it, unless you count her perennial pessimism as a skill. Why was Edward so madly in love with her? Why was she so admired by all? It didn’t make sense.
In my original draft of Moonbow (the draft I allowed my agent to send editors – a huge mistake on my part!), Iris fell short of what a satisfying M.C. should be. While she did possess flaws with which readers could relate and sympathize, she still lacked what my editor called “that special spark” that elevates heroes above secondary characters.
As I alluded to in last week’s post, I decided that this fantasy book, rife with fantastical elements, needed its hero to have a fantastical superpower. This realization completely redirected the plot and subsequently planted the seeds for my latest work-in-progress (a win-win!).
Iris went from being your everyday, run-of-the-mill teenager to a blossoming woman with an ancient power coursing through her veins. I had so much fun exploring not just her doma (gift) and how it operated, but the rich history behind it, its implications for Iris’s future, and the imminent danger it put her in.
As you outline, write, and revise your manuscript, I encourage you to ask yourself:
“What makes my main character stand out from the background characters?”
If you have trouble answering that question, then you may need to brainstorm ways to transform your M.C. from a Bella to a Katniss.
Think about the characters you’ve most connected with or found unforgettable. For me, it’s folks like Maximus from Gladiator, Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride, Jo March from Little Women, Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird, and, last but not least, Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Consuming media (books, movies, and T.V.) that feature rich, round characters is one of the best ways to enhance your own protagonists.
The next time you sit down to read or watch a movie that features a strong hero, jot down notes detailing what makes them exceptional. You’ll be amazed at how simply being aware of what makes successful protagonists shine can influence your writing for the better, subconsciously adding tantalizing texture and irresistible depth to your hero.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful! As always, please comment below with your own favorite writing tips and tricks, and/or tweet me @dandersontyler!