Why Does Your Protagonist Matter?

Characters are the heart of your story and the protagonist is everything. The protagonist is the one who drives the story forward, who advances and overcomes the plot, who makes your readers fall in love and want more from you and your cast.

But how do you choose the “right” protagonist? How do you decide which character in your mind is capable of playing the lead role and capturing the hearts of your many readers?

Why does your protagonist matter to the story, to the readers, to you?

protagonist

Who is the protagonist?

The protagonist can be the hero or main character in your story. They’re the one who’s outcome matters most. There would be no story without them.

How do you choose your protagonist?

Do you have your plot laid out? Okay, now let your characters decide.

You can choose a character to be the center of the story, but the cast will ultimately choose themselves. Like I’ve explained many times before, I originally had George the protagonist of my mystery series. And, while he’s still one of the main characters, the female main character took over and decided to be the protagonist instead.

And the story is much better that way, I have to say.

You may not know your characters until halfway through the story, but the protagonist will present him/herself when the time is right. You’ll soon come to realize which character you’ve been favoring over the others and who makes the important decisions around the plot.

What makes an awesome protagonist awesome?

Their personality

All characters in a story much have unique personalities making the readers love or hate them. They all must have a goal in mind, but your protagonist must be the one that stands out the most, that matters most to the story.

Give your protagonist a strong goal and allow them to be passionate about it. Maybe they want to save the princess (or prince) from the tower because they were childhood friends and/or they want to marry. Maybe they don’t want to save them from the tower, but they have to anyway for certain reasons.

Their background

Protagonists are usually tragic in some way or another. Don’t info-dump to your readers about your protagonist’s second birthday party (well… unless something plot-driven happened on that day, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

However, give your readers a good insight to your protagonist’s life. Their childhood, growing up, what matters most to them in life, what doesn’t matter to them at all, etc. This helps develop their personality as well as their goals in life as they strive to be the spotlight of the story.

But, you must let it all happen naturally. They know what they want.

Their relationship with the antagonist

The antagonist is the “bad guy,” so to speak. There wouldn’t be much of a plot if it weren’t for the dynamic between the protagonist and antagonist.

Whatever the antagonist does should drive the protagonist forward (or backward) in some way or another. The antagonist is one of the reasons the protagonist is going on their journey. Maybe they know each other from the past, maybe they will get to know each other when all is said and done. Or, maybe it’s just a random encounter because something else happened.

Either way, allow the protagonist to know what he/she wants and how they want to accomplish those goals.

Their decisions

Speaking of accomplishing goals, your protagonist should be the one making all the heavy decisions. I’m not saying they can’t ask for help, but they’re the ones driving the plot forward.

If something goes wrong, what will your protagonist do? If the antagoinst does something your protagonist did or didn’t expect, what will he/she do? If there’s a fork in the road and they can’t read a map, what will they do?

Allowing your protagonist to make most of the decisions allows your readers to get to know him/her and get inside their head. It makes the readers say, “I would have done that, too,” or, “Why in the world did he decide to do that? That was a stupid, they’re going to get into trouble!”

It becomes known that the protagonist is in charge of the story and they become relatable to the readers as the protagonist takes his own life, and the life of the other characters, into his own hands.

Remember…

  • Give your protagonist a goal, something to strive for.
  • Give your protagonist tragedy
  • Put all the weight on your protagonist’s shoulders
  • Allow your protagonist and antagonist to have some sort of relationship
  • Let your readers connect with the protagonist emotionally

The more you do that, the more your readers will root for the protagonist to win in the end.

How do you create awesome protagonists? What’s your favorite trait of a good protagonist? Let me know in the comments below!

Did you enjoy this post? Check out the companion post, Antagonists Are People, Too

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How To Write Characters from the Opposite Gender

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that boys and girls are different. We’re different physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I’m a girl and have no idea what goes through the mind of a boy. Boys have no idea what girls go through. We pretend we understand the opposite gender, but we really have no clue.

With that being said, it’s much easier to write in the female point of view if you’re a female yourself.

how-to-write-characters-from-the-opposite-gender

When I first started writing my mystery series, George Florence, the main protagonist was George himself. It was all in first-person, but some things just weren’t clicking with the rest of the story.

I eventually changed the point of view to third-person with George still in charge, but even that didn’t work out. With the help of my writer’s group, I came to the conclusion that even though George calls the shots for the plot, his colleague, Lilah, wants to tell the story.

I ended up rewriting the whole story, still in third-person, but as Lilah. And it is the best decision I ever made.

Why is it the best decision, though? I think it’s because Lilah’s personality is similar to mine, in certain ways. That, and she’s a girl. I can relate to her more. It’s easier for me to write her thoughts on what’s going on.

That, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that George is a detective and Lilah and I are not…

How to choose which gender your protagonist should be.

It’s easy to choose your own gender because you have that extra knowledge, emotionally, mentally, and physically. But, is it really what’s best for your story?

I chose to write in George’s point of view because I thought that was best for the series. Who wouldn’t want to follow around a fired detective who then decides to become a private investigator in spite of everyone else?

No one, if you can’t get his personality right.

It turned out, gender aside, Lilah is the best fit for my novel because she’s more relatable.

But what if Lilah was the detective and George was the student? George would then be more relatable to myself and everyone else. Then I would have a male protagonist on my hands and how in the world do I write as a 20-something male?

How to write as the opposite gender.

I can’t exactly tell you how to write as the opposite gender, but I can’t tell you how to research the opposite gender. Does that work?

Yeah, let’s skip this one.

How to research the opposite gender.

It’s going to take you a while to write as the opposite gender. It will only get better with practice, but in the end, you’re still a girl, not a boy. Or you’re a boy, not a girl… Either way.

However, you can do the best you can and that’s all anyone really ever asks for.

Read

Read books written in the male point of view if you’re a girl and vice versa. Pay attention to how the author wrote their protagonist. You can learn a lot from seeing what other authors have done, to a certain point.

Talk to people

Ask a family member or friend of the opposite gender about what they would do in a certain situation. Or, just ask them how they felt when they were teenagers, when they first went to college, or any other major life event.

Follow (or don’t follow) stereotypes

When people think of a teenage girl, they think of her standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time checking her hair and fixing her make-up. They’re spending all their money at the mall on new clothes, purses, and the like. Some teenage girls are like that, yes, but not everyone.

For example, I wore jeans every single day, the only day I’ve ever worn make-up in my life was my sister’s wedding, and at the age of 23 I still don’t have a purse. I carry a backpack.

With that said, stereotypes are okay to a point. However, it all depends on one thing.

Personality.

If your teenage girl doesn’t want to wear make-up when all of your female friends are saying that’s all they cared about, then fine. Your character doesn’t have to wear make-up.

Remember, this is your character. You created him/her. You know what they want and what they don’t want. You know the basic outline of how they think and act.

So, research the opposite gender. It won’t hurt you. In the end, though, just do your best and let your character be him/herself.

How do you write as the opposite gender? Are most of your characters the same gender as you? Let me know in the comments below!

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How To Write Diverse Characters and Why You Should Include Them

We’re all human, big or small, white or black. We all occupy this earth, we’re all in this together.

So, what would make your novel any different?

A diverse character is a character just like any other. Don’t write them differently because it’s something new. Don’t view them as special because you’ve added them into the story.

Just include them.

how-to-diverse-characters

Why should you include diverse characters?

  • We all want to see ourselves in stories. We want to be one with the protagonist, go on an adventure, save the world, and just escape reality for a little while.
  • It’s important for everyone to feel included. Everyone should be represented, everyone’s voices should be heard.
  • It also gives people an open mind. They recognize there are others out there who are like them and who are not like them. They feel as though they are not alone.
  • Don’t be afraid to write these characters. You may offend some people, not intentionally, but remember that people view things differently. Just do your research and do your best.
  • And, I don’t mean to get political on my blog, but with the way the world is now, we all need to come together and act as one now more than ever.

How do you write a diverse character?

I’ll admit that most of my characters are white, but that’s because that’s what I know. I know the mannerisms, the accents, the culture, and background. So, how am I supposed to write as anyone else?

Research

There are so many resources on the internet. Tumblr is a huge one, as a matter of fact. Tumblr, Pinterest, and even just Googling things give you a tremendous amount of resources at the edge of your fingertips. From various voices and accents to describing skin color and other physical descriptions, various cultures, and religions, and so much more. Just know what you’re looking for and don’t be afraid to search for it.

Talk about it

I’m sure you all have friends that come from different backgrounds than you. Study their mannerisms, ask them about their culture. Don’t be afraid to want to know more, to understand more about them.

Read

You’ve all heard of books, right? Look up books that center a protagonist that’s similar to yours and learn how that author pulled it off. Brush up on your history, as well, depending on what time period you’re writing in.

Remember, it’s one thing to add in diverse characters, but it’s another thing to add them in and actually portray them correctly.

But wait, there’s more!

What is a diverse character, exactly? So far I’ve basically just mentioned skin color and the like. But there are so many other types of people out there.

Diverse characters can include various:

  • Races
  • Ethnicities
  • Classes
  • LGBTQ
  • Medical disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental disabilities

And I’m sure there’s a lot more that I’m missing. (Seriously, if I’m missing anything, let me know and I’ll add it.)

Give your characters, give your novel, variety. The world is a mixing cup and we have to stir it up. (And that, my friends, is from a song we sing in my preschool classroom.)

Do you include diverse characters in your novels? How do you do it? Let me know in the comments below!

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How To Create Unforgettable Characters

Characters are one of the most important aspects of a novel. You can’t have a great story without a great cast of characters.

But what does a character entail? A personality, physical description, motive, likeness, relatability, and so much more.

A lot goes into being a character, but how do you make the type of character that readers wish were real? That readers want to know about, want to be their friends, that never want to forget them?

how-to-create-unforgettable-characters

Think of your character as your best friend.

No, I’m not saying you should base your protagonist off of your real life best friend. Our books are our babies, which means our characters are just one personality trait our books have. We want to make it a good one. And, as our book grows and matures, we want our characters to make a good first impression on our readers.

(That analogy escalated quickly…)

Anyway, when creating a character, you should ask yourself certain questions:

  • What qualities would I look for in a friend?
  • What kind of personality would I want to hang around with all the time?
  • Is this the type of person I would love to be friends with? Or I would love to hate?

Our main goal is to create a likeable protagonist, right? So, I said again, think of your character as your best friend.

You want to go on a journey with this person, you want to hear about their day, know about every detail of their life. Well, maybe not every detail.

Getting to know your character.

There are two ways to get to know your characters: speed dating–plan them out–or take it slow–let them take their life into their own hands.

Speed dating

You can give your character full life and breath before you even begin writing. This is done through interviews and character charts.

Become one with your character and interview them. Ask them about their home life, ask them what they would do in certain situations, ask them what they want to accomplish.

Or, you can fill out a character chart, which is a bit more in-depth. Ask yourself, what’s their hair and eye color? What are their favorite things? Who are they related to? Do they have a job? What about hobbies?

Then, when all that is said and done, ask yourself one more question: Is any of this information needed for the story?

Take it slow

Whether you outline your novels or not, you always have some sort of basic idea of what you want to accomplish in the story, the plot.

Often times, your characters take things a different way. You may begin writing with a certain idea of how you want your character to act and behave, but then they do something out of left field and surprise you.

So, you don’t have to map our your characters. Not completely, anyway. They know what they want.

But what does this mean for your novel, for your readers? You have your character flushed out, sure, but why would your character’s favorite color matter to your readers?

Make the character believable

It seems easy, but it’s actually pretty easy to create flat, bland characters. So, how do you achieve this?

Make them stand out from the crowd.

Give them a unique voice. Give them some special traits and tasks from the rest of the characters. Allow the readers to point the protagonist out and understand that the story is about them.

Give them flaws.

No one is perfect in real life and neither are fictional characters. If you had a protagonist with no weaknesses, then there would be a short, boring story. The conflict would be resolved before it even began.

Give them inner conflict.

The external conflict is the plot, everyone is freaking out about that issue. But, your character has something else going on, inner demons that are bothering him. Show that, let your readers feel that inner conflict. Let your readers understand how your character feels.

Give them realistic emotions.

Show how your character feels. We’ve all experienced life and death, the first day of school and work, opening birthday presents, our car breaking down, love and heartbreak, and everything else in between. Let your readers feel their frustration, their happiness, their sadness.

Allow your characters to have some secrets.

Let your readers try to figure out your characters. Let them wonder what makes them tick. We don’t always know why we do what we do. Maybe your characters know why, maybe they don’t, but let your readers ponder on that.

Allow your characters to grow and develop.

Use your character as a lesson for your readers. What did your character learn through their journey? What’s the moral of the story?

Give your characters room to grow with your readers and allow your readers to really care and enjoy following your characters on their journey.

If your readers love and care about the characters, they’ll keep reading the story.

Who are some of your favorite characters? What do you have in mind when you create characters? Let me know in the comments below!

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Time To Write: Show Your Character’s Biggest Pet Peeve

I don’t know what’s up with the character theme this month, but here you go.

What’s the one thing that annoys your character the most? It can be a simple thing that really grinds their gears or something big that annoys most people.

How do the people around your character feel when he/she becomes annoyed?

Feel free to post your story in the comments below. I’d love to see what you come up with. If you respond by Thursday, August 25, I’ll post your story and a link to your blog for next week’s Time to Write prompt.

Happy writing!

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Time To Write: Show Your Character’s Biggest Flaw

Last week’s prompt was Show Your Character’s Biggest Fear.

Nthato wrote a wonderful piece over at his blog, A-Scribe To Describe.

Thanks, Nthato!

This week’s prompt is:

Everyone has flaws whether they like to admit it or not. Sometimes we don’t even know we have a certain flaw until someone points it out to you.

What’s your main character’s biggest flaw? Do they know about it? Are they okay with it?

Feel free to post your story in the comments below. I’d love to see what you come up with. If you respond by Thursday, August 18, I’ll post your story and a link to your blog for next week’s Time to Write prompt.

Happy writing!

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Inspiration Station: First Impressions

inspiration station

I don’t know about you, but when I meet someone new I always take mental notes on their mannerisms and what they say. First impressions are everything.

When a reader meets a character for the first time, how do you want them to feel about the character?

Should the reader love your character? Maybe they’re supposed to hate the character. Or maybe the character comes off sweet at first, but the reader slowly learns to dislike the character and vice versa.

There are many traits you can use to describe the personality and mannerisms of your characters.

–General traits (ambitious, dull, funny, witty, vain, etc.)
–Good/bad habits (social butterfly/anti-social, etc.)
–Hobbies (dancing, writing, loves playing games, etc.)

What kind of emotion does your character typically show? Is he or she cheery in the most dire situations or maybe they’re sad all the time.

What about their knowledge? Do they love learning? Have multiple degrees in various subjects? Do they love palm-reading or anything that has to do with animals?

Do they have any obsessions or quirks? Maybe they collect rocks or have random impulses.

How would any of those show in the first meeting of a new character?

How would your other characters react to meeting this person?

Of course, you can write away and see how the characters turn out on their own, but I always like to think it’s good to have at least three traits of every character figured out–two good, one bad.

These traits may change over time, but that just means your character is becoming more into their own.

Time to Write: Quirks

Last week’s prompt was Gender Reversal.

Nthato wrote a great piece on his blog, A-Scribe To Describe.

Now onto this week’s prompt…

TTW Quirks

Everyone has their own quirks; common or bizarre. Our characters in our story are no different.

Write a quick short story about something odd your character does, but something that makes them them.

Feel free to post your story in the comments below. I’d love to see what you come up with. In addition, I’ll post your story and a link to your blog for next week’s Time to Write prompt.

Happy writing!

Inspiration Station: Looks Are Everything

inspiration station character development

Appearance isn’t everything, but when it comes to describing the characters in your novel, physical looks are important.

You want your reader to see the characters they’re reading about.

Don’t just say a character is pretty because they’re the main character or something along those lines. How are they pretty? Do other characters in the story think he or she is pretty? If so, why? If not, why?

Let your reader have an opinion on this as well. Maybe your reader will agree or disagree whether your protagonist is pretty or not.

There are many different physical characteristics to think about when creating your characters. Do you have to spend a few paragraphs right in a row to describe your character? No. Describe them over time.

Some physical features aren’t even important, but it doesn’t hurt to throw them in; especially in the first few drafts of your novel to help you, the writer, get familiar with the characters.

Physical characteristics can include:

–Body type (bony, chubby, petite, solid, height, weight, etc.)
–Facial features (clean-shaven, wrinkled, double chin, droopy eyes, etc.)
–Skin and complexion (birthmarks, scars, pale, tattoos, etc.)
–Hair (hair’s color, length, cut, thick/thin, etc.)
–Clothing and accessories (kinds of clothes they wear, colors, kinds of accessories such as hats, jewelry, etc.)

A great way to describe someone is to describe yourself first. It’ll give you ideas of what to look for when talking about the physical traits of your characters.

Look at yourself in a mirror and describe your body, you face, and everything you can think of.

In my creative writing class at college, I was assigned an exercise called the Body Portrait. You zoom in on a spot of your body and tell its story. I chose to write about the small scar under my chin.

It’s a great way to look more in depth at yourself and your characters.

List of Last Names

Surnames Character Development

Last names are just as important as first names when it comes to naming your characters. It gives your character a sense of identity.

Yet, you don’t want to just pick any old surname for your character. You want to make sure the last name matches with the first name.

Does your character have an Hispanic first name? You might want to give them an Hispanic last name as well.

That is, if your character is Hispanic. Maybe your character’s parents just liked that specific name, but they’re not Hispanic. Or maybe your character is adopted.

See? A last name can tell a lot of things.

You also want the surname to flow with the first name. You want the first and last name to roll right off the tongue together.

I think that has a lot to do with the syllables in both the first and the last names.

I always found that if one name is going to be longer than the other, it should be the last name. For example, Lee Anderson flows nicely. Elizabeth Smith, does not.

Yet, Elizabeth and Smith both sound alike because of the “TH.” Elizabeth Brown sounds much better.

I basically just contradicted myself, but this is all a matter of opinion.

I wanted to sound somewhat intelligent, but my main reason for writing this post was to give you guys this awesome website:

Names by Mongabay

This is the ultimate list of surnames by rank, race, and in alphabetical order. There’s also lists for male and female first names as well.

So, if you’re ever stuck on what to name your character, this is a fun place to do it.

Did you like this post? You can also read about First Names here!

Inspiration Station: Anatomy of A Character

Anatomy of a character inspiration station

I know some people like to allow their characters to develop naturally through the course of the story. Others don’t know anything about their characters until they write them down. Then there are some who plan and plan and plan their characters out.

For me, it all depends on the novel.

For my George Florence series I had personalities in mind for my characters. Then I wrote them and they turned out completely different.

For my Take Over novel I had their personalities planned and so far they’re sticking to them.

For my Diary of a Lover novel, I let the characters run the show.

So you never really know what is going to happen whether you plan or not.

However, there are definitely a few things you should know about your character before writing them:

1. First and last name
2. Gender
3. Age
4. Career and/or Education

As long as you know those four key points (and I guess number four could be optional) I think your character can wing it for the novel.

Then again, it can be fun to plan. If you are a planner for your characters then I would suggest this:

Character Chart by EpiGuide.

It’s a very in depth profile for your characters. Some information most likely isn’t needed, but a lot of the information is something you wouldn’t even think to include.

It’s fun to try anyway.

How to Name Your Characters

Naming Your Characters: First Names

Your name is part of what makes you you. That’s no different from the characters in your story.

Some people say that names aren’t important. It’s the description and development throughout the story that creates loveable, relateable characters.

I think names are pretty important as well. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.

There are two ways I come up with names for my characters:

1. I check the meanings behind them.

I love to look up various names and check their meanings. It makes the character feel more one with the story, if that makes any sense.

I think it shows that you put thought into the name of your character. It shows that your character is important to the plot somehow. It’s like the Story Gods have chosen that name for your character because they have a big destiny to fulfill–which is your plot.

For example, in the very first novel I wrote, Diary of a Lover, I named the protagonist Venus. Venus is love-struck by a boy in her class. She comes on too strong. She doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Knowing that little bout of information about her, I chose the name Venus for a few reasons.

One, Venus is also known as the Goddess of Love. The meaning of her name is literally “love.” Right off the bat, that tells you something about Venus.

Two, Venus is a unique name that you don’t hear very often. This makes her stand out as a character. It tells you she is someone important. Plus, because it’s not a common name, you’ll always think of her when you think of Venus.

2. I do the complete opposite of checking the meaning–I come up a random name on my own.

This kind of contradicts everything I just said, but there are no right or wrong ways to name your characters.

If you create a character and a name suddenly pops into your head… Use it. There was probably a reason that name was your first instinct.

For example, I came up with the name George for my George Florence series because I was trying to think of a “goofy” name. At first, George was a goofy detective, but George Constanza from Seinfeld popped into my head. Thus, George was born. I don’t know what made me think of Seinfeld, but the name stuck.

George’s personality has changed drastically since then, but I’ve written George for a few years now that he has just become one with his name. He’s grown into it and it suits him.

Names can have a lot of meaning behind the characters. Choose wisely.

I have a baby name book that I tend to use a lot, but here are some of my favorite websites to find names:

Baby Names
Baby Name Genie
Behind the Name
Fantasy Name Generator

Did you like this post? You can read about Last Names here!

Time to Write: Introductions

Last week’s prompt was a Sentence Starter: “I awoke to the sound of…”

Nandini wrote a modified piece of the prompt at her blog, Pages That Rustle.

Thanks Nandini!

This week’s prompt is…

Time to write writing prompt introductions

Introduce a brand new character as though you’re beginning a new novel. We don’t need to know any plot or premise of the story, just introduce the main character.

Give us enough background to make us want to follow the character, even if we don’t know what the story is about. But don’t reveal everything all at once. Keep us wondering about this character.

Feel free to post your story in the comments below. I’d love to see what you come up with. In addition, I’ll post your story and a link to your blog for next week’s Time to Write prompt.

Happy writing!

Time to Write: Ambition

Writing Prompt Ambition

Now that we’re a week into the new year, let’s talk about our ambitions and goals.

Write a character that is full of ambition and determination to meet their dreams.

What are their goals? What do they hope to accomplish in the near future? How are they going to go about accomplishing these goals? Do they have any support from family and friends? Maybe they don’t have any support which makes achieving these goals all the more difficult.

Everyone in life has some sort of ambition whether it’s big or small. It helps shape who we are.

Now it’s time for you to help shape your character into who they are.

Feel free to post your story in the comments below. I’d love to see what you come up with. In addition, I’ll post your story and a link to your blog for next week’s Time to Write prompt.

Happy writing!