How to Write a Novel – Video 3 Developing Characters
Hello and welcome to my Blog!
Today is Part Three of my 6-part series on “How to Write a Novel” where I’ll cover the 5 phases to developing characters that pull readers in and keep them turning the page.
I’ll be referencing my book, “Another Chance,” so make sure you grab that so you can follow along.
Okay, let’s get started.
Phase 1 – Identify the Protagonist
The protagonist is the character whose fate matters most to the story.
As a writer, you have many opportunities to craft your main character’s arc to show his inner strengths and weaknesses…wants and desires…things that justify his growth to conquer his own fate.
Start early in your script with believable steps of growth for him. As he overcomes his obstacles the reader will feel like the protagonist is a fighter and deserves to win — and gets on board rooting for him behind the lines.
As you continue his arc, your reader is painting a mental picture of your main character with each nugget you hand him. The pallet he selects colors from is your book.
Give your character descriptive words and phrases for interpreting his moods…happy, sad, angry, contemplative, forgiving. Help your reader paint your character. Put your character in situations that highlight his strong points.
In Another Chance, 5-year-old Ernest is the protagonist. And I show his strengths by comments from other characters, like ”Ernest is such a happy boy…look how he hugs on his dad when he gets home.”
And I show his weaknesses through his own thoughts, like: ”I wish Flossie was here to help me draw pictures as good as she can.”
Once you’ve identified the protagonist and let readers know their inner thoughts and secrets, it’s time for the second phase, which is…
Phase 2 – Transformation
How will your protagonist change?
Change must take place in order for your protagonist to grow.
Another Chance begins with Ernest at 5 years of age. Until he is 12, he is doted on by his big sister and their maid. He is healing from his mother’s early passing with his inner circle’s support.This time period really has no additional challenges for him…they go on vacations, his dad takes them to cricket matches and he is smothered with love and affection.
When his dad remarries, everything changes — especially the pecking order with his new 5 step-siblings. All of a sudden, he’s #6 instead of #1.
From age 12 to 18, Ernest is in survival mode. His biological sister is away at school; the family maid quits; and his stepmother is setting him up as a bad guy in his father’s eyes. Her motive is unclear at this point…but anticipation grows quickly. Ernest’s father is mesmerized by her charm and Ernest thinks he is helping his Dad by not making a fuss.
The reader sees the change he’s going through because Ernest reflects on his feelings when he’s alone. His external evaluation of the unfairness of it all is diminished by his bad behavior, again, bringing the reader along with the story. He is despondent because he is by himself — his sister is away at school, the maid he knew as a surrogate mother all these years has moved on, and his father is believing every word his wife says about him and he truly is abandoned.
His only outlet is a physical response. He begins fighting with his classmates. He gets kicked off the cricket team for not being a good sport. Somehow, getting physical calms him down.
The crux of this story is right here. This sets up the climax for the reader and he’s on the edge of his seat.
The second phase is a great opportunity for you the writer to do a little homework. Make a list of cringe-worthy words and phrases that would create disdain in your mind against a typical antagonist for your story. Well, guess what?
The list you come up with will create the same angst in your readers. You’re getting into the serious mechanics of writing…”take no prisoners.”
Now I’ve introduced a major shift for the protagonist and we can move to Phase 3.
Phase 3 – Objective
What does my protagonist want to do? Why is this phase important?
Because there has to be a goal in order to set up the conflict and challenges in the story. Your protagonist needs to have a goal so that your reader can adopt the same goal for himself, and live it vicariously.
In Another Chance, all of the changes that Ernest experienced made him crave his father’s approval and affection again. More than anything else, he wanted to have his own family where he knew he mattered – a family that would never have to question his love for them.
Phase 4 – Challenge
What opposing force is stopping your protagonist from reaching their goals? What’s holding them back from doing what they want to do?
Is it a character that opposes them (antagonist), their own demons, etc. How can authors develop this challenge. What can they draw upon?
In Another Chance, the opposing force is Ernest’s stepmother.
She has a built-in disdain for him. Everyone else can see her daily badgering except for his father because he’s away so much. Her role is the fierce antagonist – and she always looks for ways to tighten the screws on his freedom.
Without a challenge or opposing force, why will the story be weak? The reader is hungry to go on a quest…a crusade, if you will. If their is no drama, no conviction on the part of the protagonist…the reader will soon put your book down.
So now your readers are really hooked and cheering your protagonist on, they need to know he’s going to be victorious. Which brings us to…
Phase 5 – Conquer
How does your protagonist achieve what they set out to do?
You have set the stage for your protagonist to act. This is what the whole build-up is about…he must act now. His step-mother has convinced his father she can’t trust him around her daughters and that he needs to be moved downstairs so she can keep an eye on him. The final blow that sets off the powder keg is when she moves her son to his “master of the house” bedroom at the top of the stairs.
Ernest is now hurtling toward the final resolution. He runs 2 miles to his school and calms down enough to think about what just happened.
Ernest decides to throw off the shackles of his stepmother and vows to never let her control his emotions again.
He gets a job on a Norwegian freighter as a cooks helper. It was his ticket out and, ultimately, to America. And as the freighter pulled out of London Harbor, he didn’t allow himself to look back — not once did he look back. His future was in front of him. In America, he creates his family and achieves his goal.
As you can see, developing characters takes some strategizing to give the story a sense of urgency at real important intervals.
It’s like Ernest is escaping his nemesis just in the nick of time.
You can build up to these important intervals with good story telling. Then let those events deliver the turning point for the story’s momentum.
Thanks for joining me this week and happy writing!