Sunday, November 3, 2019

Who's Driving Your Story? Make Sure the Proper Protagonist is at the Wheel by Alice Orr @aliceorrbooks #MFRWauthor #AmWriting

You have gifted yourself with an Idea from Heaven. You've learned to create a story idea that is potentially strong enough to hook your readers as a captive audience for the length of your entire book. Your idea engine is tuned up and ready to roll. Now, you must designate your driver very carefully...

The Proper Protagonist

Who's Driving Your Story? Make Sure the Proper Protagonist is at the Wheel by Alice Orr @aliceorrbooks #MFRWauthor #AmWritingA protagonist, main character, strong enough to set the hook deeper still. She is the center of your story around which all the rest revolves, from the first page to the last. She must be a person of substance, complex enough to command and hold reader attention from your dramatic opening to your satisfying ending.

She is your hero and the most fascinating person in your story. A passive reactor will not fit this bill. Your hero must decide to act, and do exactly that, thus setting the action of the story in motion. She is the driving principal that keeps the action moving.

Your main character is the person with the most at stake in your story situation. She has the most to lose if things go badly. Often, in a truly gripping story, other people could lose big time to. She must commit herself to preventing that, and this generosity of spirit makes her even more heroic, burying the story hook deeper into your reader's heart.

Your character needs a happy ending more desperately than she's ever needed anything. The crucial intensity of this desire, for others as well as herself, ties the reader more and more inextricably to your character's fate, sinking the story hook deeper yet again.

This is a heavy burden for any character to support. Is your main character equal to the challenge? Can she carry the weight? As this burden mounts with every chapter, bending her nearly to breaking point, will she soldier on? If she does, will your reader believe she is capable of such strength and endurance?

Could someone else in your story carry its burden more convincingly? Is your story most riveting with the main character you have chosen at its center? Or not? The success of your story depends on your honest, accurate answer to this question. No matter how attached you may be to your character, you must strive relentlessly toward this crucial truth.

Is Scarlett O'Hara the proper protagonist for Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind? She escapes burning Atlanta, struggles home, finds her mother dead, her father deranged, Tara in shambles, and not a scrap of food anywhere. Scarlett staggers to the garden, scratches a root from the ground, attempts to eat it and vomits.

This is a black story moment if there ever was one. She might have collapsed into the dust and given up. Instead, she makes this black moment a turning point of her story. Despite exhaustion and despair, she pushes herself up from the dirt, lifts a grimy fist to heaven and cries, "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

Do we believe this behavior from this character? She's shown herself to be shallow, uncaring, vain, and selfish. Such traits are not considered character strengths, but she is also stubborn, relentless, and afire with determination. I, for one, don't doubt for an instant she has the grit to drag herself upright and vow to God that nothing will ever deter her again.

Is your hero's heroism equally believable? Would another major character, maybe a Melanie Hamilton, make a better central figure for your story? Critics have been debating that about GWTW for decades. Now, you must debate yourself about your characters. And, whatever Rhett Butler might say, frankly, dear author, for your story's sake, I encourage you to give a damn.

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About Alice Orr

Alice Orr is author of 16 novels, 3 novellas, a memoir and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells. Hero in the Mirror: How to Write Your Best Story of You is in progress. A former book editor and literary agent, Alice now writes full-time. Her latest novel is A Time of Fear and Loving – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book 5. Find all of Alice Orr's books on Amazon. Alice has two grown children and two perfect grandchildren and lives with her beloved husband Jonathan in New York City.
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  1. Dear Kayelle. Your comment is right on target. We've all heard the quip that common sense is, in fact, not that common. This applies also to writing. The points I make here about what makes a main character a powerful presence on the page are mostly intuitive, if we would only plumb deeply enough into our sensible sides to find them. The problem is, I believe, that we become too anxious about our writing work. Will it be good enough? What will happen to it? Will anything ever happen to it at all? Beneath the clamor of these nerve-wracked questions, access to our own innate knowledge (what I call "the good sense God and Grandma gave you"} gets buried and lost. The secret is to calm down, relax, do this writing thing (and as much of what you do in life in general) for the joy of it. I wish everybody will be blessed with the ability to do that. Alice