Writing Tips: 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Creating Your Protagonist

We writers have a habit of falling for our carefully crafted protagonists. I mean, after spending 70,000 odd words with them, what can we expect? It’s only natural we fall in love and/or lose the ability to be objective. It’s one of many reasons why editors are so important to our mysteries/sci-fi/novels or short stories.

So when writing, you need to know how to avoid mistakes when creating a protagonist. There are four common mistakes you can easily avoid when creating your protagonists.

The most common are:
1. A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY
2. NO DEPTH
3. NO GROWTH
4. FAILURE TO CONNECT

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript. Those scenes spilling aeons of family history, or the minute details of your hero’s pug-puppy stamp collection, really aren’t necessary.

A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY

One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript.

DEPTH
Depth is somewhat subjective. What one reader finds beautiful, another may hate. But there are some easy wins you can implement to help you create depth.

Don’t give your hero an overwhelmingly positive personality – heroes who are overly positive make your reader feel like they’re being accosted by a perky cheerleader at the crack of dawn when they haven’t had caffeine. It’s a bit much, even for the most tolerant reader. We all have off days; it makes us human and gives us depth. Your hero needs the occasional off day too.

Your hero must make mistakes. Likewise, we all make mistakes. It’s how we grow. A hero that never makes a mistake can come across as annoying, patronizing and make the reader feel inadequate. LET YOUR HERO MESS UP AND LEARN LESSONS.

Your hero’s personality needs to be a consequence of his history – we are a product of our history. When a character isn’t, it can create an uneasy feeling in the reader.

The reason Indiana Jones is scared of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is because he fell into a pit of snakes as a kid. The audience knows this, so the fear makes sense. CONNECT THE DOTS. PLANT THINGS IN YOUR HERO’S PAST THAT BECOME RELEVANT IN YOUR STORY.

Actively drive the plot forward – your hero takes the risks and faces the greatest danger. It’s Harry that kills Voldemort. IT’S YOUR PROTAGONIST WHO MUST DRIVE THE ACTION FORWARD AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, MAKE THE FINAL BLOW DEFEATING YOUR VILLAIN.

FAILURE TO CONNECT
A failure to connect can happen on two levels: disconnecting with the audience, or the hero disconnecting with the other characters and the story. The cause and cure are one and the same.

The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.Your protagonist is the manifestation of your story; the web that pulls all the elements together: flaw, theme, supporting characters, plot, obstacles, change arc etc. should all be linked.

The entire story is connected, which is why it connected with readers.

Essentially, what you need to remember is this:

While your villain is the source of page-gripping tension, when the words are read and the dust has settled on your back cover, it’s the hero that your readers remember.

The hero should connect every element of your story. He should grow and change and drive the plot forward all the while representing our ‘flawed’ human nature.

Let your hero make mistakes. That way, when your hero has the ‘ah-ha’ moment, your readers will too. Much as it makes me weep, eventually, villains are defeated. But heroes are like puppies. They’re forever, not just Christmas.

Are you prone to some of these mistakes when writing your protagonists? Please leave your thoughts below.

Marketing and Writing

How much time do you spend writing vs marketing? I would imagine it depends on what you are writing. Say you’re writing a novel, a non-fiction book or a mystery. It takes a considerable amount of time to write these. But if you’re writing short stories, it takes much less time, so you can do more ‘marketing’ (I.e. getting your stories published.)

Short stories are different from full-length manuscripts. First, you don’t need an agent. Second, the first step is to get the story published. Lastly, once you’ve completed your book, then you can start marketing it.

In the days before Internet, writers would get fan mail in the post, actual physical letters, (some still do) and they would answer those letters. There are some great pictures of Hemingway standing up at his typewriter answering his letters every afternoon.

When people would do interviews, they would go on physical tours, to bookstores, or to fairs or different venues. Charles Dickens used to go around speaking. I believe people still go on physical tours to market their book.

Try and think of how you can integrate marketing in a sustainable way for you that’s creative and also meets the goals of what you want for your writing. Do you want to sell more books? Or do you want to become famous? It’s rare for an author to be come famous. So set your goal to sell more books. (By the way, I once had a student who wanted a formula to become famous author!)

Publishers rarely market their books other than putting them on their website. So it’s up to the author to market her book. The exception is Windy City Publishers. They’re a hybrid publisher that does the marketing for you. Of course they’re rather expensive, but if you are fed up trying to publish your book the traditional way, this may be the way to go.

There are other ways to self-publish. BookBaby is one of them. BookBaby offers print, e-books or print and ebooks. Plus it’s an affordable e-book self-publisher with no sales commission, plus your book gets an ISBN number through them. There’s also Amazon who publishes your book on Kindle.

I’m sure there are other self-publishing companies. Investigate and get back to me.

Questions from The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer

Writer

by Guest Blogger, Pat Childers

Why do you write? I know why I write. I write for money. I write creative nonfiction for money, but I also write fiction to make myself laugh and so far nobody pays me for that. Sometimes I write to find out what I’m thinking and that can be really scary, but it does help me straighten out my medication.

I’m currently writing a science fiction thriller titled “Robot Love.” I thought of calling it “50 Shades of Robot Love,” but that would make it an entirely different book, albeit entertaining. I’m also writing a mystery that takes place in Chicago about a private investigator named Murray Antoinette. Anyway, I’ve had my picture taken for the dust jacket, written the prologue and thanked the people who helped me. It’s just that stuff in the middle (the actual text) that I’m having trouble with.

But what I want to know is: why do you write? What is it that you have to say that is so insightful, thought-provoking, or entertaining it needs to be shared with as many people as possible?  Do you have a story inside you that will cause a reader to pause and re-read a passage because it is so well said it is startling? Is it plot-driven, character-driven, or written in stream of consciousness like Virginia Woolf? I am anxious to know.

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The Oldest Living Middle-Aged Writer lives in Midwestern flyover country with her dogs. There have been reported sightings of her husband. In between innings of the Cubs game she is working on her web site and can be contacted at pat@pjchilders.com.