Exploring Your Main Character
Who is the protagonist of your story? Sometimes as you are building a story—outlining, writing notes, running through scenes in your mind—you realize that the main character is not the most interesting character. This might prompt you to change your protagonist. After all, any story can be told from any viewpoint. The main criteria is to make your point-of-view character compelling to the reader.
These exercises are designed to flesh out your character’s traits. You want to make sure your character is interesting; what about her stands out? She must be someone that the reader can empathize with sooner or later, even with all her flaws and limitations. And shemust have flaws and limitations. If she’s too “good” she will be boring.
Remember that your protagonist must be a character who can change. Lejos Egri describes the protagonist as “the eternally changing character who forever reacts … to constantly changing internal and external stimuli.” As readers, we want to witness the minute changes and adjustments that characters make as they navigate their world. It’s a good idea to keep that in mind when we’re thinking about each of our characters.
These exercises are a way of getting you to put down on paper some character details, both details you’ve thought about before and ones that you are just making up now. You don’t have to keep all of these traits for your character. It’s just to get the wheels started. As you hone your characters, you will change details about them. For instance, you may begin thinking your character is an only child, but later give him a younger sibling who competes with him.
- Write down as many specific traits about your character as you can: gender, age, race, social class, sexuality, level of education, place of birth, number of siblings, current home, any special abilities.
- Write ten unusual facts about your character (for instance, she never uses a pillow when she sleeps; he whistles through his front teeth when he’s nervous). After that write then ten lies.
- Write ten different ideas about what your character wants. Now write ten different ideas about what he or she needs.
Longer Writing Exercises:
- Write a one-page scene in which your character is asking a teacher for an extension on a writing assignment, and include at least one trait or fact from your writing exercises (above).
- Write one page using this prompt, from the point of view of your main character: “I told myself that what I wanted was … but that was a lie. What I really wanted was …”