Writing a novel is hard. It’s like trying to decide whether the chicken or the egg came first, while at the same time, cooking chicken in a freezer and frying eggs with a naked flame in the Alaskan snow.
Writing a novel is hard.
And that’s why we’re here to help.
Your Main Character Matters
Above anything else, they matter to you.
They are the entire reason you’re setting out to write this story. Without your main character, where do you go? What do you write about? Who do you place emphasis on and have all the bad stuff happen to? Whose thoughts do you let the reader in on? How on earth do you write a book without them?
The facts are simple. Whether you write with one protagonist, or multiple protagonists, they are one of the most important parts of your tale. That’s why your main character matters to you.
Following that realisation, your follow-up question should always be one of simplicity.
Why Do They Matter To The Reader?
If you can’t answer this within ten seconds, you need to rethink (or at least reprogram) your protagonist. That’s because this is of vital importance. If your reader can’t invest, and fully believe in, your main character, what’s the point in them reading the story? If they aren’t invested in the one thing (or things) that the entire story is centred around, what’s the point in them spending time there?
NEWSFLASH: THERE IS NONE.
This is the first thing you need to address as a writer.
When choosing your main character, you must think about them in two different ways. First you consider why they matter to you, then you consider why they matter to the reader. Once you’ve discovered these two things, you’re ready to move on with the real meat and potatoes of character development.
The What, The Why, And The Secondary What
This is how you should think about your protagonist in relation to your story, genre, and conventions. If your narrative doesn’t answer these questions (unless it’s an intentional anti-plot) it won’t work.
The what is the first thing you must establish. What does your main character want? What, out of everything in life, do they wish to get their hands on? This is their first what. This is what the entire story is built upon.
It can be broken down further into two more detailed whats: the internal and external objects of desire.
You must establish the external wants of your character (the physical things that they want/must overcome), and the internal needs of their heart and soul (the inner emotional battles that they must deal with; the deepest desires of their heart).
The who is the most fun part. Who is standing in your character’s way? AKA, who is your novel’s antagonist? This is something you must place a lot of focus on. If done wrong, it could ruin your entire story – no matter how good the rest of it is.
Without a great antagonist, there’s no real conflict for your main character to overcome. They’d be free to roam and go about their day as usual, making the establishment of any wants and needs wholly futile.
Every great protagonist has an equally great antagonist.
The Secondary What
Now, this is where things start getting a little tougher to keep up with.
We’ve already established that you must first present the main character’s want, and then the person standing in the way of that want, but the secondary what goes a little bit deeper. This is all about the antagonist’s actions. What is stopping your main character from getting the thing they want?
If your protagonist is a lawyer who wants to get a client off the hook, and your antagonist is a fellow employee at the same firm, the secondary what would be that your antagonist always does their best to take the case away from the antagonist. This is the thing that stops them reaching their want.
That’s a lame example – and please, never use that as a story idea – but we thought we’d keep things simple so it didn’t cause confusion when following along.
Now Your Main Character Matters
Once you establish these things, your protagonist takes shape in a much better way. Your reader will thank you for constructing them in this sort of way, and they’ll be able to fully invest in their journey and their life.
That’s the most crucial thing.
Even if your plot is set up as the greatest plot ever written… if your main character’s involvement in the plot is not attractive from the reader’s perspective, they won’t continue to read. Really think about this when you’re planning out your book.
Create a protagonist that readers want to read about, and reap the rewards of that effort in your ratings and reviews. If you go about this with anything less than one hundred percent effort, it’ll show in your writing. Don’t settle for that. Go all in.
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