Developing a Protagonist

May 10, 2014


Does your book feature a well-developed protagonist? The reader must feel as if he or she knows your leading character well in order to develop empathy and care about what transpires over the course of the book. Some of the essentials to make this happen are:


1. Give your protagonist a history. Not long stretches of backstory, but be sure that the reader knows something of the main character’s past that led him or her to the place in time when you open the book. This history may be sprinkled in in small doses after your first chapter “hooks” the reader.


2. Make sure your character wants something that drives the novel. This not only develops character but creates essential tension. Ask yourself what are this character’s fervent hopes and dreams and desires, and make sure the reader knows what this protagonist wants and needs more than anything else.


3. Paint a vivid inner emotional life for your protagonist. I don’t mean to suggest long paragraphs telling the reader how he or she feels, but do impart in a subtle and yet clear way how the character reacts to events in the novel. Make sure that the emotional responses are evocative and change as the book progresses.


4. And finally, draw an arc of character development over the course of the novel. The protagonist must undergo some kind of transformation, growth and/or gaining of insight by the end of the book for the story to resonate.

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