Sunday, April 11, 2010

And the lead goes to...

Stories are about people. How many times have we heard that? When I pick up a book, I don’t look for the clean flow of narration, or the specific descriptions of furniture or landscape, I want to be drawn into a distinct world full of people. Beautiful people, ugly people, little people, green people, pointy eared people, bad people, good people, confused people, angry people—okay, I hope you get the point. So who moves the story? Yup, that’s correct! Your protagonist—the leading role.

Remember you are asking the reader, me, to stay with this person for 300 plus pages, 13 hours of bonding. That is a huge demand and you have to make sure your lead is up to the task. In order to do that you first need to know who they are. That is where the character bio’s come to play. Character backstory brought alive by you, the author. Ask questions, keep a diary, learn the history of your character intimately and use that to show your reader a reason to care. Find your leads strength and make him real.

Your characters, like your plot, needs to change over time. Not a long time hopefully, but within the pages of the book. A stagnant lead can kill your story like a stagnant plot. Imagine following a story with a person who begins as a whiner and continues as a whiner throughout. Imagine following a story of a person who begins as a wimp and continues as a wimp throughout. Just as well, imagine reading a story of a person who begins perfect and continues to be perfect throughout. I don’t know about you, but at about a third of the book I’m looking for some real change to my lead if not before. Usually it goes hand and hand with the plot developments.

Heinlein proposed three reasons why people could change.

1. Change comes from the influence of another person where deep bonds are formed.

2. Change comes due to circumstances.

3. Change comes when he tests his ideas of the world against reality which often results in a sadder person but wiser person.

Think about the latest lead you journeyed with. What made you continue reading? What made him/her change?

Helpful reads: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress; The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass; By Cunning and Craft by Peter Selgin.


  1. what a great post! I know a lot of people are against too much back story but as both a reader and a writer I need enough back story to care and if I don't know who the character is at the beginning how am I going to know/show how he/she has changed at the end?

    My most recent read was The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and the MC changed only because he was forced to.

    BTW, love By Cunning & Craft; it's sitting on my desk:)

  2. Great post! *I* see changes in my MC, but I'll go back and check that they are visible to readers, too.

    Linking back to you!

  3. Great post. I'm off to read the Nancy Kress book now:)

  4. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad I can help.

  5. Great post. I struggle with character development, but you're right, it's so important. I've read Nancy Kress' book and found it very helpful.

  6. I love this post...this is EXACTLY what I am checking out this round of revisions!


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