Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Main characters need to change

First of all, this is a link to examples of last round's writing prompt finalists. So if you're interested in entering this round's writing prompt contest, check that out to get a feel for what the judges are looking for.

Moving on.

Let's take a look at your main character.

We've already talked about that there should be only one main character. Yes, we can probably find books that break this rule well, maybe there are even plots that require an ensemble cast. For our interests, though, we won't look at exceptions. We'll just assume one main character.

For me, my main character is the first part of the story to arrive in my head, but that might not be the case for you. You might be having trouble determining which character would make the best protagonist.

A good way to determine this is to ask which character has the biggest change to go through.

Your main character cannot, I repeat cannot be perfect. Your main character needs to change, and your story is largely about how that change takes place. It make the book satisfying.

First, determine what change needs to take place. Maybe it's something your character is aware of, or maybe it's not. And maybe there's a couple changes taking place; an outer change (like a need to live a healthier lifestyle) and an inner change (a need to be comfortable with the body they were born with).

Next, brainstorm how they can be tested. These will develop into major plot points for you. Say your character has diabetes and needs to develop healthier habits or he'll die. Will he over indulge on sweets at Christmas time? Fall in love with a pastry chef? Hate his personal trainer?

Some tests they should emerge from triumphant, and others they should fall on their faces. Which leads into the next point:

Utilize the pendulum. Ever watched an action movie where the hero is too slick? Every shot he fires hits his mark. He emerges unharmed from every fight scene. Doesn't feel real, does it? Avoid this by balancing the good and bad.

Like in Me, Just Different, Skylar nearly gets raped at a party - that's bad.

But it leads her to decide to be safer in her lifestyle - that's good.

But Eli rescuing her at the party makes her feel obligated to date him - that's bad.

But he agrees to support her new lifestyle - that's good.

And so on.

Determine a "black moment." This is a moment where your character has lost everything, including the desire to change. They're not sure if it's worth it, and even if it was, they know they aren't capable of doing it.

But then during one final test, they somehow (often with the help of others) summon the strength and emerge triumphant from the final battle. They are stronger than they were at the beginning of the book, and while it wasn't always pleasant, the journey they just took was necessary.

This will make your reader sigh with satisfaction when they close your book.

Have writing questions? Email me.


  1. Where did you learn all this great stuff?!! I get so excited to read your posts:) they've spurred me onto to thinking about a story I've procrastinated on & I've written nearly 2,000 words on it.
    I've struggle with starting & deleting bc I criticize myself & am afraid of it being bad at it. BUT I'm resisting the urge & those 2,000 words are on my comp in a file. I also think here goes nothing!

  2. Stephanie, i really love & am thankful your doing this series but with this weeks prompt i'm stumped. I have written something but I know it won't be chosen. It's not that good & I read the winners entries from the last obeZ
    Is it best to enter anyways or skip??? I cant seem to decide?

  3. Tonya, writing is one of the few things I'm good at. And for the last 7 years, I've been a full time writer. Lots and lots of time for study :)

    Regarding the writing prompt ... I say you just do whatever feels best to you. You have until Monday night, so it's possible the right idea won't hit until Monday afternoon, you know? There's no right or wrong here. Just whatever you're comfortable with.

  4. Its hard coming up with this stuff... though when I look at some of my books they do have this stuff that you talked about.
    I worry though that I'm not doing it right... like its a really bland book... hm

  5. Do you write more than books?

    Jazmine: i feel the same way like my writing just isn't as good as books I read. I wonder if the ones who succeed are the ones who ignore the "this is no good" voice?!

  6. Tonya, were you talking to me when you asked if I write more than books? No, I don't. Unless you count blogging, which I don't :)

    Jazmine, not recognizing all these elements in your book doesn't necessarily mean yours is bad or wrong or any of that. I used to have a hard time pinpointing these things in my manuscript as well, but now I write with them in mind, so that makes it easier.

    As I've said on here before, take what works for you and your writing style. Leave the rest.

  7. Hi, Stephanie! I'm thirteen years old and I would like to write a book set in the post-Civil War South. The only problem is, I have two characters, a white girl and a mulatto girl, and I want to use them both as main characters in my story. What should I do?

    1. They can certainly both have their time on the stage and can each be POV characters. But usually one of the characters has more of a story than the other. You might just need to write a little bit before you figure out who the true main character is.

  8. I love writing but I keep changing to different stories whenever a new idea pops into my head. Also I get nearly all of my inspiration from television and most of the characters I create come from actors and actresses I've seen in film. Am I plagiarising?

    1. Plagiarizing is kind of a fuzzy line. It's common for writers to borrow concepts from TV or even other books. Using books/TV for inspiration is fine, though you should never copy and paste anything into your manuscript, if that makes sense. And even if your story is inspired by another creative work, you should work hard to make it yours. Like you might suspect that Angela Hunt's "Uncharted" has its roots in the show "Lost." But the story is clearly Angela's. (Here's a link to a description of Uncharted, if you're unfamiliar with it: