Writers Block Article – Defining the Protagonist.
There is one primary question we must ask and answer throughout every aspect of a story. Why do we care? (we, you. I, they, you get my drift.) This must be asked in parts. These parts are as follows.
1: Why do we care about these characters?
2: Why do we care about this story?
3: Why do we care about this chapter / paragraph / sentence / WORD?
If we don’t care, we don’t need it.
If it’s useless
babble that repeats and repeats and repeats the same thing over and over or is
word filler that doesn’t ascertain to your terrain then CUT IT.
Today however we’re just going to discuss character building and defining.
Building your character to make people CARE. If they love or hate them they must CARE. Rule one to rule one, All rules that apply to your main characters apply to your sub characters.
If you’re unsure on building a specific character be it your first, millionth, main or sub, Put yourself in their shoes. Become them. When you become them you learn to think like them. Who are they and in turn who are you? Are you bad good or walk that fine middle line? Your actions or your characters actions define who they are in a story. Remember to be emotional. Be passionate. Feel everything intensely even if your character is laid back and mellow. If you know and feel what they do then you will not just understand how they react then you won’t get stuck near as often. If he’s real mellow and laid back, PROVE IT- FEEL IT – EXPLAIN IT or as we like to say in the show me state SHOW IT.
Make them special unto themselves. Make sure there is a reason for every action and reaction your character makes for them. Every single person is so different. Be careful not to make your characters all too similar where each would have the same response in a given situation. If everyone is afraid of spiders (reacts the same to different events, loves the same, talks the same, eats the same, has the same smirk, the same blazing intense eyes) your readers won’t care about them as much because they’re all the same. If everyone is cut like Fabio what makes one guy look better than another?
Jill may run screaming from the spider, Jack may crush, Jane may pick up and let it crawl all over her. But if Jane isn’t freaked out by the spider, why does she freak out so easily over Jack jumping out of the corner and yelling boo? If your character has a strong personality you must not drastically change the characters personality unless your character is growing up and redefining their persona. Jill may start out horrified of spiders. Then John comes along and sits her down and shows her his pet tarantula and how sweet the thing is. How it tickles so gently when it crawls, how affectionate it is and loves to be pet. Maybe the spider saves her life. Then by the end of the story she may just have a new respect for spiders and now due to a personal character growth and development, is no longer afraid of spiders. Not every character will change and develop but you want at the very least your main protagonist to grow and develop. Think of it as a coming of age journey. Good and bad happens, we live, we love, we hurt, we learn we change. If they do not change we risk our readers feeling jipped. They got so invested with this girl who was afraid of spiders, she was shown how wonderful they are, that they eat the mosquitos they hate so much, they saved her life and by the end of the book she still runs screaming from a daddy long legs. What was the point? Why did they get invested? Why do they care?
Teach our characters things. Have Jill teach Jack how to cook. Have her teach him how to kiss. This is a part of growth development. This attaches your readers to your characters because we all learn every day. Plus if your characters are too perfect, people will actually care much less than they would a flawed character, even one who can’t seem to get the hang of tying their shoes no matter how hard they try.
Now every character needs two things.
1: GOALS / WANTS If your character isn’t striving to achieve anything, be it to date the super model or to tie his shoes on his own one day, readers attention span tends to drift off. So ask, what do they WANT? Ask this many times. Ask this as the story whole, ask this as the chapter section, the paragraph, the sentence. Make your characters want. We all want so your characters should too. Even if they’re rich and have a perfect love life, they must want for something. Even if it’s a glass of water, they must want. WHAT IS THE GOAL?
“But Jace, how do I know if what the character wants is what my readers would want them to want?”
There is such a tricky line in writing for yourself and yet writing for your audience. I say this. Write for yourself but live for the readers. There are a billion stories in the world and that’s a low ball estimate. The shitty thing is all main plots have already been written. The difference is YOUR VOICE. (we’ll get to that more later) As long as the story speaks to you and you feel that character and you understand that character, their needs, desires, pet peeves and reason for being, so will your reader.
2: Adversaries and Nemesis. There must always be a challenge be it plot driven or character driven, meaning they could have an evil villainous enemy or maybe it’s a rival, someone they’re always competing against even if they’re friends. It could even be a non-character. Let’s say my character is conspiracy nut, well his enemy is gonna be the government. Let’s say he’s a rock climber, his adversary is Mount Everest and every time he tries to climb something goes terribly wrong. Maybe they just can’t pay the bills. They need something to challenge them, something to contradict their every move, to make things hard. They need fate to slap them down every time they get close to their goal. It’s difficult to actually torture your characters too much. Turn them into emotional wrecks, beat them down, abuse them, use them, you can even kill them. The more struggle a character goes through the more people grow attached. We all struggle and we all have hardships. If your character has no hardships then how can the reader relate to them?
Now there is a point where you can bore your readers by this. If you have a character with bad guys after him and he keeps getting the shit beat out of him every other day, they begin to expect it and get tired of it. So your character getting jumped every other page by a gang of thugs is going to get old. Mix it up. They get jumped, then the nurse in the hospital thinks he lives a bad life so he doesn’t deserve his pain meds, then he gets out and the cops are on his ass instead of the thugs. Bad things can happen around every corner but it shouldn’t be the same event rewritten in a hundred different ways. You can have the same type of incident multiple times but it must be changed up.
“But Jace, my story is about a boxer and going through different boxing matches. How do I keep from repeating the same event in different ways?”
I’m going to add something outside of bad guys enemies and challenges, let’s add sex to this. “My story is erotic. How do I keep it mixed up and interesting when I have fifteen sex scenes in one book?”
There are different methods. One way I’m going to discuss to me is the simplest and one of the most intriguing and effective. Teasers. One scene starts off with the first half of the match or sex scene where they’re getting really heavy into it, it’s getting real hot, then bam. CUT SCENE. Next try starting out your boxing match at the start of a scene already in the fight or already screwing each other’s brains out. You can do the last segment of the scene starting on the first line of the chap. “Chapter three: Jill moaned loudly as the orgasm ripped through her body and Jack collapsed on top of her.” “Chapter three: Pulling his fist back, John landed the blow to end it all square on Jack’s jaw, knocking him out cold.” I recommend always starting or ending, don’t just show the middle with no climax in any capacity. This tactic when done properly is very intense and instigates more questions from the reader, asking who what when how where and omfg did that just happen?! I have to read more so I know! An orgasm is great but done fifteen times in a row, meh how can each time be the best ever? The best part of a sex scene is the climax yes but not always an orgasmic climax.
If you liked this and would like to see more, check out the writer’s block at Ambrosia Arts