Protagonist: Write Your Dream Main-Character~Part 1

Protagonist: Writing Your Dream Main-Character~Part 1

© Copyright Arabella K. Federico

Writing your Dream Protagonist

How Protagonist and Plot Dovetail together to create a dynamic merge that gives your readers a main-character wroth fighting for.

"It's not about the Plot-It's about The Lie, The Journey, & The Truth."- Arabella K. Federico

To begin, my blog post “Why You’re Writing Your Mentor All  Wrong” speaks to this notion of the Protagonist’s journey. Those writing their novels from the approach of an external plot, idea, or premise aren’t wrong, per-say, but they’re just missing an element. In the beginning of the journey, I did this, too. Aaaannnnddd I wrote myself into quite a few corners because of it. Stories aren’t JUST about the plot. Contrarily, stories that are compelling are so compelling because the audience’s brain is hooked on one simple inkling that you plant in the very beginning: curiosity. Our brains are wired to connect things unconsciously. So, if you write your Protagonist the right way, they’ll have your readers salivating to know what happens to this character and how it’ll affect the story. Because that’s all that truly matters: how plot affects the Protagonist

The "T" word

Firstly-yes. Secondly, theme…your theme is your Protagonist’s “Shard of Glass”-A term coined by Jessica Brody from the book “Save The Cat 2.0” which I soooo recommend. She describes the Shard Of Glass as: “It’s a psychological wound that has been festering beneath the surface of your hero for a long time. The skin has grown over it, leaving behind an unsightly scar that causes your hero to act the way they act and make the mistakes that they do (flaws!). You, as the author and creator of this world, have to decide how that shard of glass got there. Why is your hero so flawed? What happened to them to make them the way they are? And most important, what will really fix your hero’s life? What does your hero actually need?” The theme for your story must be tied to this shard of glass.

How the internal mixes with the external To Create a dynamic protagonist

After plotting my fiction series, I discovered that I was able to tie my Protagonist’s Shard of Glass directly INTO the plot. Meaning, if she were any other character-the story wouldn’t work. It was as if she was born to be in that story. Rather impressed with myself, I sat down to try and figure out how I could reverse-engineer my own process to help you do the same thing. Sometimes Theme comes after this process, and sometimes it comes before it. So don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t know exactly what your theme is yet. Answering these questions will help.

1./ What specific issues would my character have that would make the events of my plot matter specifically to her?

Backstory is essential in helping you answer this question. It isn’t easy, but if you want to write a compelling Protagonist, there has to be a deep, festering wound in her past that’s caused her brain to slightly fracture and believe something that isn’t true on the outside world or within herself. Reality isn’t reality-it is only perception. This wound, and subsequent lie/misbelief, should be tied to your theme and plot somehow. It gives your story a “Full Circle” feel.
Neo from The Matrix

2./ What other scenarios or events happened in my Protagonist's life that showed her this lie was "true?"

You don’t just believe a lie once, it needs to be cemented into your subconscious; and that requires your hero to see it occur a few times before the story ever begins as well. Let’s say your Protagonist has a deep sense of unworthiness because she’s never been able to get her father’s approval. Each time she tries and hopes she’ll be enough to make him proud, he finds some way to dismiss/disregard her. Therefore, in her mind, she’s believing the lie that: “I am unworthily because my own father won’t even accept me.”. She needs to say to herself: “See! THIS is true! I have proof, right here.” She’s looking for proof of the lie, and you’re going to give it to her. Eventually, your Protagonist isn’t going to even realize what’s happened when that Shard of Glass becomes completely buried, scarred over, and deeply rooted in her belief system.

3./ What does my Protagonist want more than anything, and how does that desire keep her lie alive in her mind?

This is some deep psychology, so stay with me here. Every Main Character should want something, and want it DESPERATELY. The more clear and defined that want is from the get-go, the better your story will be. If you want an edge over other writers, you wanna do some deep-thinking on how that “want” keeps the “lie” alive in your Protagonist’s mind. Using the same example as above, your Protagonist wants her father’s love and approval. But…she believes the lie that she’s unworthy and therefore will never gain it no matter what she does. Yet-she still wants his approval, doesn’t she? What will she do to get it?

4./How can my Hook and Inciting Incident set up my Protagonist to choose between her lie and what she wants?

The Inciting Incident disrupts the status quo of your heroes life. But instead of using an external event to throw a bomb into their world, you should also give them an agonizing choice between the thing they want more than anything, and the lie they’ve come to believe about it. For example, your Protagonist has an opportunity to finally do something so grand that her father absolutely has to give her the credit and FINALLY see her and love her-but…there’s a big risk here. There must be a risk and a massive step outside her comfort zone, otherwise its meaningless and wouldn’t matter. OR-your Protagonist can stay in her world, in her lie, but never being able to get that thing she believes will give her contentment; her father’s love. 

4.5./ The Inciting Incident is always going to be what the Protagonist wants-but with a major catch

As a side-note to the point above, creating your Inciting Incident to match up with what your Protagonist wants is the way you realistically push your M.C. out of their comfort zone. See, people are super resistant to change, it takes A LOT to do so. Where a lot writers fail with the I.I. is this: they don’t give the Protagonist a legit INTERNAL reason to GO off on this journey. If it’s purely external, then why? Why go? Perhaps a writer would invent an I.I. that would cause ANYBODY to go off on this journey, like a zombie Apocalypse or an earth quake; but those stories are always missing that essential piece. It’s the internal conflict. The I.I. is missing the M.C.’s WANT. You gotta tease your M.C. with what they want most, and that’s the element that’s spring-boarding them off towards the journey and therefore towards change.

5./ what does my protagonist actually NEED?

Only you can answer this, but it is going to be the major “Wake-Up-Call” your Protagonist has after the “Dark Night of the Soul” in Act 3. Your Protagonist will ultimately discover that what she wanted so badly-yeah… it isn’t going to give her any of what she expected it to. She isn’t happy, she isn’t fulfilled; because that “want” was never what she truly needed. Let’s take our fake Protagonist-she thought she wanted her father’s love, but what she realizes right before the Climax is that his love won’t complete her. It won’t make her whole. But her own self-love, self-worth WILL bring her that solace and peace. Not her father’s. Therefore, once she’s found this inner strength and new found self-worth; she’s able to fully take on the antagonistic force. She would not be able to win against the antagonist if not for this realization.

Harry Potter Protagonist

Was that just a character arc breakdown?? Mmm....Yeah.

Absolutely baby! What you just read is my 5.5-Step Process to a character arc that merges with your plot. This focuses on a positive character arc, but that shouldn’t mean you write a Mary Sue. I think you should actually create a Protagonist who’s grey as all get up, and I talk about The Grey-Hero in this blog post here. The whole point, is the journey this character takes. Like the quote from the beginning, it isn’t about the plot! It’s about the lie, the journey, and that TRUTH! Your readers want to be taken on a journey with this character, they want to experience that journey with them. They want what happens in the plot to matter significantly to your Protagonist, because humans are just wired that way when it comes to story. It’s been that way from the very beginning of storytelling.

I know I sound like a broken record, but don't forget about theme!

By this time in your process, the theme should be obvious, yeah? If we’re going with the same example from above, then the theme would then become: “Discovering Self-Love/Finding love withing yourself/Discovering your true value”. However you wanna phrase it doesn’t matter, as long as it fits with the lies/misbelief/truth. Think of it as Theme being the complete opposite of the lie. Readers love a sense of completion when the novel is done, and connecting the overall theme to your Protagonist in this way gives them a very satisfying conclusion. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later. 😉

Now that we've got a very flawed Protagonist with all the trimmings, it's time to allow them to royally mess shit up.

In Part 2 of Writing Your Dream Main-Character, we’re going to discuss The Three Act Structure and how your Protagonist and they’re lovely lie and misbelief really messes stuff up for them…yeah. It’s gonna be a rough ride. I can’t wait. Come back soon and follow me on social media so you don’t miss out on part 2!

Let's recap

  • Theme!
  • Shard of Glass/Backstory where your Protagonist’s heart becomes so broken they begin to believe a lie and misbelief that will ultimately affect them for the majority of the story. Causing all sorts of trouble.
  • Reinforce this lie over and over again in your Protagonist’s backstory. They need to have it pounded into them that whatever the lie is-that it’s true and they believe it with their whole being. 

If you don’t know the three-act structure very well, study up Here. It’ll be crucial for part 2!

  • What does your Protagonist believe will makes them truly happy and how does that connect with their Lie and keep it alive in their mind?
  • Craft a Hook/Inciting Incident that’ll force your Protagonist to choose between the comfort of their normal/status quo life where they’ll never get a chance at what they want-OR-give them the opportunity to maybe get what they want, but with a high risk and huge push outside comfort zone.
  • What does your Protagonist NEEEEEEEEEEEEED??? Let them finally discover it before the Climactic tension hits its high point.
  • Tie in the Theme (which is opposite of the Lie) at the end to push your point home.

My conclusion

If you’re still with me, I implore you. Most writers do not get this deep. With my main character in The Mark of Creation, Kara’s backstory got to a point that it was too detailed, too complicated, and I needed to simplify it down to make it work. I recommend this. Broad topics, universal topics, tend to work better for big audiences like a readership. But I promise you, this will make your story a character-driven one. A story where what happens matters to your Protagonist, not because it’s dangerous or scary, but because it challenges the very core of their being. It’s real shit, so I applaud you for being real and trusting me with such an important character. I hope, hope, hope this resonates and helps you in your journey to publication. 
Let’s write the story of your dreams. 

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