10 Tips on How to Write a Protagonist

 

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A protagonist is the central character of a story. Unlike side characters, the hero influences the story the heaviest. Because the hero holds the plot together, developing a solid character is vital.

Below, I’ll discuss some tips on how to write a protagonist; things that should assist you with your hero’s development. These are guidelines, as the majority of the hero’s creation comes from the author.

How to Write a Protagonist

When learning how to write a protagonist, there are several things to keep in mind. How each parameter lines up can influence both the protagonist and the plot.

1. Gender

This is one of the more prominent points when you write a protagonist, as the POV can change considerably with the hero’s gender. I read an enlightening series of forum posts that discusses male and female characters. You can check this and this for additional information.

Stay true to your character’s quirks and personality. Don’t let traditional stereotypes interrupt that creative flow. If you hit a roadblock, ask a reader of the opposite sex. Often, he or she can add some insights to your character design.

2. Race

Whether your hero is Caucasian, African, or some fictional alien race, have that racial background define who they are and their ordeals. Maybe a particular breed of space elves are hated in society, or they lack a specific trait that humans take for granted.

3. Height, Weight, Body Mass

Maybe your hero is a short, fat dwarf or a lanky human. How they appear to other characters can influence how the hero comes off. Perhaps a tall protagonist looks formidable and therefore commands respect.

Maybe give your hero some facial scars, a distinguishing feature that sets them apart. Make them unique, as the main character should be.

4. Secrets

Any reader enjoys secrets; even better are secrets within secrets. What I mean is, wrap your main character in mystery. Give them an enigmatic past and don’t give out the answers too quickly.

Have your secrets evolve as the hero progresses through the plot. This evokes intrigue and helps pull the reader in.

5. Character Flaws

“There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

DrosselmeyerPrincess Tutu

Tension is fundamental on how to write a protagonist. Incorporate conflict into your characters, whether in their backstory, gender, race, or physical limitations. You can also give them technical flaws, like the inability to perform a skill or a specific action.

Giving them too many perks and too little flaws result in a bland, uninteresting hero. You want to challenge your hero, not make them a god; nor do you want them to fail in their quest.

6. Attributes

As in video games, especially RPGs or tabletops like D&D, a character in a story has a given set of attributes. These parameters define what the actor is good at, what he or she may fail at, and perhaps unique modifiers that make the character stand out from other characters.

First, define what kind of a character, or class, the actor is. Take your stereotypical warrior: they—usually—have high strength and resilience to trauma. Warriors may not specialize in other fields of ability like magic or stealth, but they have their toolbox of skills to make up for it.

Characters like the warrior fit a niche in a company of heroes, whereas others party members address their shortcomings. Having one character do all the work often comes off as lazy and boring. Give your characters a challenge that pushes them to their limits.

7. The Hero’s Journey

The hero should be someone who struggles through the impossible. The protagonist should suffer but persevere. This is a reflection of the journey we all go through—the Hero’s Journey.

It is vital when writing a protagonist that the hero is relatable to your audience. This draws readers in and generates sympathy and a sense of kinship with the hero. Plot out your story using the Acts found in the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell did an excellent job in his novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I highly recommend this book.

8. Antagonist

An antagonist complements the protagonist, forming a wholesome plot. The villain often provides the tension and challenge to the hero. In traditional works, the antagonist is a reflection of the hero with exacerbated personality flaws. It could also be a father figure.

9. Leveling Up

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As a character progresses through a story, they level up or gain additional attributes. With games, the hero adds new parameters to their character sheet. In a novel, leveling up is more subtle. The author may demonstrate this as a character acquiring a new artifact/weapon for study, graduating from school, or finishing a spellbook.

The development of new experience enriches the character’s worldview and the way they handle problems. A rookie fighter may view a few brigands with horror, while a veteran would display confidence.

This system of progression enhances characters and leaves a player or reader with a greater sense of appreciation by the end of the story. Typically, characters begin with little to no experience and graduate to seasoned fighters by the end of the plot.

10. Tropes

If you’re still struggling with how to write a protagonist, check out TV Tropes here to browse a list of familiar character tropes. That may give you some idea of what you’d prefer in your character.

As an example, the farmer hero trope is heavily used in fantasy settings, but it still works. My main hero of Ethereal Seals starts out as a half-dragon farm girl who trains into a knight by the end of the story, yet she fails at some tasks that others take for granted.

There are endless variations to this trope alone, and putting your original spin on it will help it stand out.

Conclusion

Learning how to write a protagonist can be a complicated process. There are certain factors to keep in mind, like gender, race, body proportions, and flaws. Tropes provide a convenient starting point for character creation. Remember to challenge your hero—introduce some tension.

I hope this article has provided a good idea of the thought and time put into a character. For more information, please check out the provided links throughout the page.

Thanks for reading. Much love and gratitude. 🙂


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I’m looking for beta readers in my app here. Click it and read about my ebook if you’re interested. My book cover has a green gem on the cover, titled Ethereal Seals: Dragonsblade. Thanks.

 

My First Published Ebook

Hey all, short update. I’m proud to announce that I’m now a published author! 🙂 To be specific, I’m a contributing author in an ebook of poetry. The ebook offers a series of poetry from a group of authors from the Northeast. Here’s the Amazon link, if you’re interested. Look for my pen name, Ed White.

There’s few places as attuned to language as New York and New Jersey. Two perpetually groundbreaking states, they’re home to major industries, high culture, and a level of diversity unlike anywhere in the world. Their residents speak in countless languages, but the same gritty pride rolls off every tongue, especially in poetry. And in America’s Emerging Poets 2018: New York and New Jersey, 70+ up-and-coming poets have their own chance to shine. Covering a wide array of topics ranging from love and heartbreak, family and friendship, the inherent beauty of nature, and so much more, these young talents will amaze you. Containing one poem per poet, this anthology is a compelling introduction to the great wordsmiths of tomorrow.” -Amazon promo

And here’s a link to the publisher’s webpage. I get a commission based off any sales made. Thanks in advance for your support.

It’s been a busy month with Christmas around the corner. Stay warm, and I’ll have more to come. Love and gratitude—for all of my supporters who help make my dream a reality.


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Book Length and Word Count

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I decided to revisit this old article and dress it up a bit. Take the word count example lists with a grain of salt. They are averages. Anyway, onto the meat and potatoes of this article.


The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. It may not appear to be at first, but there is a formula followed by countless writers and publishers. Depending on the target audience, genre, and book type, the word count in a book can vary.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets—so these guidelines are best loosely followed.

Book Length Guidelines

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on their genre and audience.

Audience

Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book length. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. Likewise, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book length for a more mature audience.

Age group Examples:

  • Poetry: 5 to 3k
  • Picture Book: 400 to 800
  • Play: 1k to 32k
  • Middle Grade: 25k to 40k
  • Young Adult: 50k to 80k

Genres

Book genres, of course, play a considerable role in word count.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries tend towards a lower end of the spectrum—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 words
  • Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000
  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
  • Historical: 90,000 to 100,000
  • Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 130,000

General Book Types

Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a short novel with a compact story; ideal for a quick read.

Book type examples:

  • Flash Fiction: 300 to 1,500 words
  • Short Story: 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novels: 50,000 to 100,000

The Endgame

Legacies

Ultimately, these listings are a guide, not necessarily a strict rulebook. You can have your long epic fantasy and do well with it. However, for new writers, it is best to start small and work your way up. A book length that is simple and sweet reads best.

Once one’s legacy is built, a writer can gamble a little more. Agents and publishers can reference this track record and this increases the chance the book gets published regardless of word count or even prose finesse. If you have enough avid fans who will buy the book, publishers will overlook certain shortcomings, since they know the books will rake in profits regardless.

For this reason, some authors start small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

Another thing to remember is that quantity alone does not a good book make.  You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it won’t read well.

Adverbs and excessive prose often slog writing; an attempt by the writer to look professional. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the word/phrase is, the better. The simpler a manuscript is, the more people can read it, and the more can enjoy it.

Word Impact

Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:

  • Character progression
  • Plot development
  • Environmental immersion

There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either.

Half of the fun comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment. Remember, a book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader.

Conclusion

Wrapup

The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on his or her goals and ambitions. Identifying core variables like the audience, genre, and book type are essential to the process.

A writer must first do the research, just as a builder must first draw out blueprints for a house—and research the terrain. Each brick of a manuscript’s foundation should be carefully placed with meaning. If you do this, your house of stories will last against the elements of agents, publishers, and readers alike.

A Final Note

Happy writing and have a great Thanksgiving! Also, one last shoutout to all you NaNoWriMo writers. Great work—keep it up! 😀

For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, you can check out the community page here for more information. The website also has an archive of helpful pointers for writers.

Thank you for reading. 🙂


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What is creativity?

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This is a revised version of an older post. I wanted to revisit the idea of creativity. Through the books and media I have consumed since then (months ago), I developed a deeper sense of what is creativity.

Side note: It’s also my two-year anniversary since I started on Ethereal Seals! It’s amazing to think I’ve come so far in only a few years. Who knows what lies on the horizon for my story. I’m certainly looking forward to it. 🙂 Anyway, back to the article.

A Creative Introduction

What is Creativity?

“Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”

―Robert E. Franken―

What is creativity or imagination? These elusive terms are difficult to pin down. Human imagination shows terrific promise. It accomplishes achievements while participating in humanity’s gruesome sins.

Human vision has no limits, save the ones we place. With enough ingenuity and patience, the strength of creativity can move mountains. Channeling one’s creativity is paramount as humans. It is our birthright and sets us apart from lower life forms.

Who uses creativity?

Creativity often links with artisans, such as writers, painters, musicians, and so forth. Yet imagination is so much more—even business people can use it.

Some may say creativity is an extension of free will. We choose the variables in a given system, for better or worse. The arts are akin to our souls experimenting and expressing our true nature to the universe. This ability to choose that renders us as creators, preservers, and destroyers.

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” 
Osho―

The Responsibility of Imagination

We are responsible for how we use this awesome power, ultimately determining our trajectory in life. What is creativity without a guiding hand to steer imagination’s wild nature?

Even so, there may be limited resources in place to restrict or test our creativity. Accumulation of these resources, whether it is money, food, or authority, strengthens our ability to choose.

We associate value with these resources, as they enable us. This ability to act may be coined power. Therefore, creativity fueled by resources and implemented through power builds the reality around us.

The Workings of Creativity

Creative Alchemy

Creativity is different from imagination. Imagination forms the creative idea—creativity transmutes the concept into a final product. Lacking one or the other destroys the creative cycle.

In this sense, the act of creativity is like alchemy—transmuting lead to gold. Birthing the creative gold takes work—and sometimes you may fail in the process. Commitment is a significant factor in the creative process.

The Components of Creativity

Here’s a diagram by Harvard Business Review ’98 that details the facets of creativity.

3-components-of-creativity

  1. Expertise is the logical, restrictive, and straightforward intellect. A left-brained category.
  2. Creative-thinking is the right-brained category of imagination, fertility, and freedom.
  3. Motivation is the commitment factor—the long-term objective; the journey wrought by the mind.

When these three categories mesh together, creativity ignites within us.

The Global Creativity Gap

Here’s another comparative study by Adobe regarding creativity and how people view it. I found it insightful.

Adobe-State-of-Create-InfographicWEB

It is ironic that our world values creativity, yet most don’t live up to their creative potential. We live in a society of mechanized production rather than free imagination.

What will the future hold for humanity if we continue at this pace? Will it change? How? Some questions to ponder after you finish this article.

How to Maximize Creativity

Here are some ideas for you, the reader, to try. Forming a routine with these steps could provide dividends.

Do Something You Enjoy

It was Einstein himself who proposed this idea. Performing a task that brings fulfillment can help ease stress, clearing the mind. Whatever it may be, include it in your schedule for that creative boost.

Do Nothing

Work and rest go hand-in-hand. Sometimes the greatest ideas come to those who unplug from our busy world.

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”
—Alan Cohen―

If you’re out of ideas, try relaxing or meditating. Practice mindfulness meditation for the best results. Here’s an older article I wrote on the science behind it.

Exercise

Exercise stimulates brain circulation. Long walks are a great way to feed your brain that creative juice. This Standford study suggests that walking improves creativity.

Embrace the Absurd

Sometimes the craziest ideas have merit. Many writers and artists, like Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, made use of the inane to fuel their creative works. Sometimes, from the depths of absurdity, genius can emerge. It can’t hurt, can it?

Another illustrative Diagram

Here’s a chart summarizing other ways to maximize your creative potential.

stimulate-creativity-infographic_32181

Conclusion

Creativity is an elusive mistress, full of mystery and arcane prowess. Discovering the foundations of imagination may reveal untold secrets to humankind.

In an age rife with conflict and misery, perhaps the solution is surrendering to the creative child within us all.

I hope this article has helped you in whatever creative projects you have. That said, I’ll finish with one last inspiring quote. Cheers.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” 
Pearl S. Buck―

Thank you for reading. Have a great weekend, everyone. There’ll be more to come. 🙂


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Sources For You to Check Out:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/creativity

https://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/creativity/define.htm

https://www.creativityatwork.com/2014/02/17/what-is-creativity/

https://creativityworkshop.com/what-is-creativity.html

https://quotefancy.com/quote/761201/Alan-Cohen-There-is-virtue-in-work-and-there-is-virtue-in-rest-Use-both-and-overlook

https://www.mindful.org/apply-mindfulness-creative-process/

https://www.fastcompany.com/3057486/10-exercises-to-fuel-creative-thinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethereal Seals Part 1 Synopsis

This is what I have so far for a beta manuscript; just some thoughts I’m brainstorming and fitting together. I hope you enjoy. 🙂

Love and gratitude to my readers.

Spoiler alert(?)

Political and racial tensions abound in the sophisticated world of Atlas. Within this mythical land, trouble looms within the Ethereal Seals Gate, a relic that anchors the holy Ether and supports the crystal technology within society. Seven Seal Gems complement the Gate. Now a clan of druids ransacks the Gem shrines, seeking to please their shadow goddess and establish her new empire. The fate of the planet rests on the edge of steel; yet, the legacy of a cursed young farmer’s daughter unfolds–the half-dragon progeny of a war hero.

The alleged red-haired bastard, Pepper Slyhart, a disliked minority, finds herself at odds with a lieutenant of the Royal Guard, Gerald. After a scuffle with the captain, Pepper’s mundane life shatters during a casual jaunt in town with her life-long friend and clergyman, Tarie Beyworth. Through the will of an elderly hermit named Razaeroth, Pepper inherits her father’s old sword. Overcoming the threshold’s guardian, she accepts a pact with her sentient blade, forever sealing her fate to the weapon, and it to her. With her destiny renewed, she embarks on a journey across Atlas to prevent the destruction of her homeworld.

Upon visiting Tarie’s abbey atop a floating island, Pepper learns more about who the druids really are and their twisted alliance with the region’s capital, Midvale. She discovers Gerald’s connection to recent terrorism, connected to the disappearance of the city’s queen. The half-breed delves into Midvale Palace to decipher the wanton madness spreading from the city’s newly appointed ambassador, Reneriel Dawnstar, and the young lustful captain, Gerald.

The red youth interfaces with Tarie, and discovers him to be more than just a friend. While forbidden by the church to marry, Tarie’s growing sympathy for the half-breed transmutes into a romantic passion, one that he can no longer suppress. With his biological parents long gone, Tarie finds it ill to forgive himself for this childhood loss, furthering his sense of guilt for betraying the abbey, the only family he has left. Yet he finds comfort in Pepper’s presence and begins to question himself. Friction develops between home and his love. Tarie arrives at a crossroads, unable to choose both his adopted family and Pepper.

From the highest peaks of the mountains to the lowest reaches of the darkest dungeons, Pepper encounters an unlikely host of allies who join her cause; some come with shifty ambitions, and others form their own independent company. Pepper meets an energetic Ashia, a dragon girl princess who proves to be as much of an ally as she is a love rival for Tarie. Zihark, an outcast assassin, also joins the party, though for his own selfish reasons. A rabbit singer named Lily and a muscular mason named Gilies come later, citing concern for Midvale’s decay. Through happenstance, Lily recounts her dreadful past to a willing Gilies, hinting at a possible attraction to the big man.

Betwixt mortal battles of steel, science, magic, and romance, Pepper unravels the terrible price of her mythic blade and its connection to the Ethereal Seals. With a need for power and the constant provocations from Gerald and a mysterious soldier named Zolt, Pepper succumbs to her inner draconic urges. The red girl unknowingly sacrifices her sanity, become no more than a mindless beast. It takes Tarie and her other loyal companions to bring her back. Zihark loses faith in the redhead’s outbursts and forms his own company with Lily and Gilies.

As she traverses Midvale and its palace, Pepper fights a vengeful Gerald, who reveals to her the traumatic reason behind his hatred for half-breeds. Pepper also clashes with Zolt, discovering the officer’s unusual station and honorable demeanor. The redhead confronts Dawnstar. She recovers one of the Seal Gems and rescues the captive queen, Zelinda. An injured Dawnstar flees with his ilk, promising Pepper that her fate now entwines with his and that of the druids, never to rest their hunt of her. Dawnstar regards Tarie with a vague sense of familiarity before he departs thereby foreshadowing dire tidings of his connection to the cleric.

The skirmish leaves Midvale in ruins and her companions demoralized. Pepper’s company returns to Tarie’s abbey to recuperate. The heroine receives a lucid dream from the gods, providing guidance and wisdom. She garners her newfound courage and drives her own ambitious quest to protect the other Gems and the Gate from the druids’ machinations, no longer fettered by her own anxiety. She confronts Zihark, the disliked recluse of the group, and wins back his trust with her newfound conviction.

Midvale’s queen unveils further secrets to the situation within the abbey. The empress initiates a journey to a mountain-city named Stonehaven for the aid of her city. As diplomacy rages within the church, Tarie weighs his confined life in the abbey against Pepper, him now unsure of his traditional complacencies. Selecting excommunication over heartbreak and restriction, the cleric surrenders his home, adopted parents, and his vocation to journey with her.

Within the ruins of Midvale, the druids acquire Gerald’s mangled body. The captain consents to their plans to alter his remains, he now demoralized from the betrayal of Midvale’s court, and a need for power.

The first part of the book ends as Pepper and Tarie depart with Ashia, Lily, Gilies, and Zihark for the Slyhart farm and the southern forest; Zelinda’s company breaks west.

What is a Mary Sue?

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“There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

DrosselmeyerPrincess Tutu

 

You’ve likely heard of this term before–I’m sure it’s been written about to death, but here’s my take. A Mary Sue is a female fictional character given a plethora of boons without many (or any) flaws. They come off as flat characters without much potential for growth. A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu for the male counterpart) are often author pets, and the plot or other actors may bend around the needs and wants of a Sue. A figure of this caliber is often unrealistic, as most humans are flawed, and this makes relating to a Sue or Stu difficult.  It is vital in fiction to create a character relatable to your audience. This draws readers in and generates sympathy and a sense of kinship with a fictional hero. Here is an excellent article on Mary Sue traits.

You can garner interest within a character by giving a flaw or two. It could be a personality shortcoming like a short temper or a technical inability to perform an action. Whatever it is, have your characters struggle with it throughout the plot. Give depth to your characters’ flaws and weave it into their evolution. Don’t overburden your characters with defects. Otherwise, they may come off as incompetent actors who can’t move the plot at all.

Here’s a website for testing a character for Mary Sue traits. There are many other types of tests available, but here’s the first I found on a Google search.

While it’s okay if your character has some of these Sue qualities, try to keep the amount moderate. Some authors believe that Mary Sues can have a role in a story. While this can be true for side characters, your main actors should be the most interesting ones; if a Mary Sue serves a purpose for the protagonists or the plot, then it should be fine as long as it’s done correctly.

Here are some ways to add depth to a character:

  1. Play against traditional norms. Give your protagonist a unique quality that sets them apart, but doesn’t raise them up on a pedestal.
  2. Seed secrets within secrets. Utilize thoughts or dreams to evoke intimacy within a reader.
  3. Even if your characters are incompetent, give them agency. Have them act upon the plot and move mountains, figuratively or literally.
  4. Switch narratives. Have multiples main characters each with their own perspective. This adds depth to the plot and its actors. It may even sharpen one of your conflicts.
  5. Have protagonists relate to other characters and build trust gradually. This goes with the above tip, but trust does not happen quickly, sometimes not at all. If you find your protagonist garners a lot of respect and admiration from other actors for little to no reason, you may want to reconsider.

All in all, a Mary Sue can seem subjective to some, but there are hard guidelines to follow that help an author avoid this character pitfall. Be sure to get the opinion of multiple types of readers with different perspectives to ensure your character is as it should be.

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 🙂

 

What/when/how do we read?

Reading on a routine basis is essential for one’s writing skill. That said, what’s the best media to consume and how? Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Genre – Some proponents say to stick to your style. For example, if you compose fictional horror, you should read only those types of novels. Others say that perusing anything will help with the writing process.
  2. Media type – There are media sources to consider. Most often these include novels, movies, video games, manga, comics, and so forth. Some people find that specific media work better for them, while another may claim that novels are best.
  3. Time and place – You should identify the ideal time for your reading. Different people absorb specific material at choice times better than others. The environment may have an impact on the reading session.
  4. How much – Another subjective parameter that varies between people. Regardless of how much you read, maintain a steady schedule that’s in balance with your other duties. Keep track of your progress and set goals.
  5. Time management – Make a list of reading and writing goals for the day. Fulfill them in an appropriate order to the best of your ability. If you can’t get to everything, pick up where you left off the next day. Keep your schedule steady and ongoing (but break when you need to). You can devise your own method like this and find what works best for you.

It’s entirely up to you how you enrich yourself. Experiment with different types and see what works best. You don’t have to be a conformist who reads only books; try blog articles (like this one) or skim over something you’ve never considered before. Keep a journal and record your progress. The results may surprise you. Cheers.


How do you read and when? What types of media do you consume and how much? I’d love to hear in the comments below. Thanks for reading. 🙂