Thank you all so much for coming to the writer’s workshop on March 24! To say that I was nervous is like saying the Beatles were cute. But because of your benevolence and not my competence, I managed to get through it without total personal self-annihilation. And I hope a few of my fellow writers left feeling supported and confident.
I’m going to post my PowerPoint here on this blog, if you couldn’t make it, and for the next three posts or so, I’m going to put up chunks of the presentation, in the hopes that you will find it minimally helpful to your own writing process.
March 24 Writer’s Workshop: Killing the Mystery
Part 1: Creating a Protagonist
Creating a main character is one of the most important things you’ll do in creating a story. A main character is your everything—your driving force, your reason for a plot. I know some writers talk about making characters so real that they seem to speak to them and think on their own. I’ve been a writer for fifteen years and created many protagonists and I’ve never achieved this state. It seems pretty exciting, but I’m here to tell you not to worry too much about that. There are entire books written about creating protagonists. But we’re not going to get bogged down in trying to cover every aspect. Let’s just hit a few of the high points:
Your character has to want something.
This is the most important aspect and nothing else matters. What your character wants—and be specific—is going to be the entire driving force. He or she can want more than one thing, but it has to be clear. The plot is going to serve to drive the character toward what she wants-or away from it.
The character has to be active.
No one wants to read about passive. Your protagonist should be active, first of all, and this is something I’ve struggled with myself in my writing. No one wants to read about a character to whom things just happen. It’s much more interesting to read about someone who makes things happen. And this have to be positive—hell, it can be her very destruction. But instead of reading about someone who is kidnapped and rescued, it’s hell of a lot more fun to read about someone who is kidnapped and escapes. I’ve found myself often writing characters who seem to be wading through a veritable obstacle course of difficult other people and problems and I’ve had to ask myself what is she going to do to get out of this? How is she going to actively get what she wants?
Your character has to change.
Likewise, this is not groundbreaking theory, but it’s damn solid. You’re going to leave your readers pretty unsatisfied if they reach the end of your novel and damn if they aren’t reading about exactly the same character, right back in her room, in her bed. How boring. The character might change for the worse, for better, but he or she should be different by the end of the book. And how will he or she change—by the struggle to get what she wants. The process will change the character one or the other
Your character has to be someone we like.
Or at least we sympathize with. This is delicate ground – on the one hand, we the reader are going to be spending a lot of time with this character. So if he or she is irritating or dull or whiny, chances are, we’re going to put down the book. On the other hand, think of all the abhorrent characters in literature who somehow draw us. The ultimate example of this is Humbert Humbert, the narrator of Lolita. The man is a pedophile, a child molester and a total narcissist. Yet, somehow, he cleverly tells us his story so that we find ourselves fascinated by him. So don’t take this to mean that your character has to be Princess Pony Delight. But as a writer, we need to feel a connection with this person you’ve created.