The Mystery of Your Protagonist

So did you revise your inciting incident yesterday? If so, A big HUUUEEY to you!

If you didn’t, you get Latrine Duty. Sometime today, AFTER completing your assignment below, you get to clean up some mess. Go to ANY writers’ critique board, find the least critiqued piece, and set to work. Start out by finding something positive to say about the piece and then do a complete, honest critique. Yes, it can take thirty minutes, and no, they may never thank you, but at least THAT author wrote something, posted it, and is on their way to greatness. You get to scoop out their shit.

Image by SFC Peter G Verisano.  Click for a full gallery of his work.
Image by SFC Peter G Verisano. Click for a full gallery of his work.

The Mystery of Your Protagonist

I want you to pull out the inciting incident from yesterday and reread it. Don’t edit. Now think about clues to your characters that come out of this incident.

Characterization is like slowly revealing a series of clues to a fictional person. Done well, it creates the illusion of seeing into his soul. An effective character is someone we care about. And it has to start right here at the start.

Choose a character–any character–at the moment of the inciting incident. How did he get here? Why? How well do you know his BACKSTORY so you can project effective clues to his soul as you write/revise the book. This backstory may never appear in the book. Or maybe just a few words will seep in now and then, but it will be in your head and will come out between the words.

That’s it’s calling.

I repeat, it should seep into your story mostly between the words. Through the character’s voice, attitude, style and actions, we start to understand his past. Then when you throw in a tidbit of fact from the backstory, it fills in a gap for us. Like finding out your next door neighbor’s hidden past … scintillating.

Assignment:
So choose one character, most likely your protagonist or your villain. Make a chart of his personal storyline. Go through the book, skimming through sections that reveal his backstory. Is it interesting? How can you better bring out the essence of this character? Have you given justice to inner conflicts, his personal strengths and, more important, his weaknesses. Readers relate to personal quirks and weaknesses that turn into strengths. Think of Monk, Sherlock Holmes, and Scarlet O’Hara. What is it about this character that your readers can relate to? Love to hate? Or laugh at?

Now revise the character arc through your story to strengthen our relationship with that one character, or in the case of the villain, our ability to love-to-hate him. I recommend doing this exercise for at least three central characters, but will refer to this only once. Use charts, the free Storyboard program online and outlines to ensure that these central people have strong, well-developed arcs.

HUSTLE!

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