No matter what genre of novel a writer creates, a protagonist lies at its heart. Whether an alien, a mythical beast, or a human the reader will want to connect with them. Why else would they continue to read on to discover what path and challenges are ahead? In a romance it is the two main characters that take centre stage as their relationship forms, is thwarted but ultimately endures. In other genres the reader may follow a single protagonist to a satisfactory, if not, a happy ending.
The writer’s aim is to convince the reader to believe in these characters. The protagonist is at the centre of everything; they need to be credible and believable, even if they are not plausible in the realm of our own world.
Every action and decision they make must be convincing. As author’s we want the readers to experience events through this main character(s) eyes: joy, fear, exhilaration, disappointment and hopefully success. They have faced challenges and overcome the barriers that were placed in their way by well thought out plots.
Empathy for them, once developed, should lead to pages turned and future books read – especially, in the case of a series.
To achieve this, a writer must know their characters intimately so that everything they do, think, and say will support the developed plot, enhanced by the skilfully written detail of setting – the world that the protagonist and the cast of characters inhabit.
If you think of these characters as real people and develop profiles for each, the protagonist’s profile will be more detailed than minor characters, although they still need to respond and react true to type, therefore, the author must be well versed in the ‘type’ of character they are.
Your profile should cover the basics: physical aspects, appearance, age, height etc.
But then dig deeper: –
What is their emotional state?
What is their unique back-story that led to them being the person (or alien) they are now?
What family/friends/ associates/colleagues do they interact with?
Are any of these toxic?
What goals do they have and what stands in their way?
Nobody is perfect so what flaws do they have?
Are they haunted by the past or motivated by their potential future?
Do they crave love, are they driven by a quest, or seek to save the world?
What are they uniquely good at?
What would make them act out of character?
What are their loves/hates?
Do they have vulnerabilities or insecurities?
Do they have secrets and, if so, what would happen if they were discovered?
How do they change and grow as a result of the events they face throughout the plot?
All these questions will help define the characters so that their reactions, actions, and interactions will flow smoothly and make them live on the page.
Whether they are asked of the protagonist or antagonist, or supporting characters, this is valuable background information that will add depth to your writing when the knowledge is applied to their interactions.
At all costs avoid stereotypes, they will not work and may offend the reader.
When the protagonist first appears make their entrance count. They must appeal, interest, or intrigue your reader so that they continue to follow the story.
What is it about them that captures attention? Is it their appearance, attitude, intelligence, or a unique feature that makes them stand out?
Once the characters have been created then they can be let loose on the pages of your manuscript as the novel takes shape. Structure, plot, and pace are essential, but without believable characters that convince, hook, and delight the reader there will be no life and depth to the story.
Everything they say and do should show the kind of character they are. Props can be used to embellish this process, if they add something to their development and the use of which aids the core plot move forward.
Whatever details the author knows about a character, it will be more than need ever be shared on the page. Exposition – description and ‘info-dumps’ – should be avoided as they slow down the pace of the plot, so only feed information to the reader on a need-to-know basis; instead, use this valuable background knowledge to breathe life into your characters’ thoughts, words, and deeds.
If the characters created feel real to the author, then they will to the readers of the novel, which is the essence of successful and memorable fiction.
Valerie’s love of writing and creating stories began in her childhood. Now, as an established author she loves sharing that love by tutoring students in the art of creative writing. Her career to date spans 5 novels, 46 novellas and working as a tutor for the London School of Journalism, Writing Magazine and independently via:
Her romantic adventures are mainly set in her beloved home county of North Yorkshire in northeast England. It is an area of majestic moors, rugged coastline, and beautiful market towns of Whitby, Northallerton and Harrogate and historic York. The early nineteenth century (Regency) was a period of huge social inequality and change, smuggling, espionage, and industrial innovations that all served to add drama to many of her romantic adventures.
Valerie’s work has been compared to romantic classics: ‘Wuthering Heights meets Poldark.’ Romance with a darker touch of mystery added.
Recent publications: Betrayal and The Baronet’s Prize now available on Amazon and KindleUnlimited.
When not working Valerie loves to walk in the countryside with her two loyal spaniels, bake, research historic locations, and travel broadly with family and friends.
www.ValerieHolmesAuthor.com (10% discount off fees if you quote this article)