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Why this Character?

Anonymous asked: “Hi! I’m having trouble showing my protagonist’s personality while writing. It seems like I’m doing just fine with the others, but my main character is just getting pulled along by the plot. Do you have any tips on showing the protagonist’s personality and making them more active in the story?”

If your main character is more acted upon than active, I think it’s time to ask yourself, why is this the character who is telling the story? Would it be better if a more involved character told the story? Active characters do have a tendency to take over a novel. 

This happens all the time, especially for new writers. This happened somewhat recently in a project I was working on, where a side character became so much more exciting and interesting than pretty much any of the others, she became the protagonist and it was much easier to write after that. 

It’s always going to be that exciting side character that becomes more active and engaging who will take over the whole novel, becoming the protagonist in the process. Sometimes you need to embrace this change and just run with it, your novel will be better for it, or if there is a reason that your current protagonist must tell the story, it will mean that you’ve got some things to address, often that go back to character basics. 

So first, what does this character want? Your protagonist’s wants are what brings about the conflict and plot. What is the goal that your protagonist is working towards? What actions and choices are they making to get there? These are really essential questions to be asking yourself early on. Once you know what your character wants, you can be planting actions and decisions they make to move towards reaching that goal. This way they are actively pursuing what they want. 

If you’re stuck in a situation where a lot of things are happening to a character, then it’s really going to be their reaction that matters. So a house lands on top of your protagonist’s sister. What does she decide to do about it? If she’s the Wicked Witch of the West, she declares she’ll avenge her sister’s death by ruining the girl who lived in that house. There’s a decision made in reaction to something that happened to her and as a result we learn just a little bit more about who this wicked witch is and think maybe she lives up to her title. 

My piece of advice for this situation is to go back and examine the most recent thing that’s happened to your protagonist. What kind of action or decision can be made in reaction to everything that’s happened to him? What does he decide to do because of that? Sometimes it might mean writing a scene where your character is examining all the possible actions. Try to imagine what possible reactions there could be as a result of what happened. This scene doesn’t need to go in your novel but could be a good exercise for learning just who your character is and what they’re capable of. 

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