I’ve been on a “story essentials” kick lately as I work my way through the latest round of revisions for my new novel.
One of the big weaknesses in the last draft: my protagonist wasn’t active enough through the second act of the book.
It is so crucial to keep a protagonist active throughout the entire novel. They can’t just want something, they need to be actively going after it.
Readers invest in a character trying to get what they want
The whole reason we start caring about characters in the first place is because we want them to get what they want. We become invested in their quest, we become sympathetic to their journey and fascinated by how they try to overcome their obstacles.
It’s extremely difficult to care about a character who either doesn’t want anything or isn’t doing enough to shape their own destiny.
Along those lines…
If a supporting character is driving the action it will start to feel like their novel
Sometimes novels can get away from a protagonist. If someone else is making all the key decisions and pushing everything forward: it will start to feel more like that character’s novel.
We’ve all had minor characters who grabbed the reins of the plot and didn’t let go. It can work for a bit. But if the protagonist cedes too much control to someone else it will gradually feel like they’ve lost the story.
This can create confusion for the reader because the novel we thought we were reading becomes something else entirely.
A protagonist doesn’t need to be in total control. They do need to try
That’s not to say that your protagonist has to be omnipotent or that they can’t operate for stretches with limited or even no control over what happens.
We still need to see them trying to influence their own destiny. We need to see them doing everything they can to fight against their lack of power.
That relative lack of powerlessness should feel more like the protagonist encountering a big obstacle than feeling like they’ve just decided to take a back seat.
Make those protagonists active! You’ll end up with a much more invested reader.
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Art: Ayusi Sweeping Bandits with a Lance by Giuseppe Castiglione
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