Most writers will tell you that one of the hardest things to do is actually sit down and, well, write. There are all kinds of reasons for this: busy schedules, fears or resistance, or, as I recently discovered while reading Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k, simply because the writing isn’t fun.
Now, for that last one, I’ve of course known that on some level for quite some time. People hate doing things they don’t enjoy or find boring or difficult. And yet, I think people have a habit of romanticizing suffering when it comes to anything artistic or creative, as if only the weight of the world can effectively squeeze that precious once-in-a-lifetime genius out of someone’s soul. It is in fact just that kind of ideology that fostered the grit that both kept me shackled to and unsuccessful in my work for over a decade. Point being, having now discovered how much more I can enjoy my work when I approach it from a playful, growth mentality instead of a grinding, Sisyphyean one, it’s really broadened my horizons.
Which brings me back to my first point that actually sitting down and writing is hard.
Sadly, this has been much of the case for my newest novel.
Now, there are bits and pieces of all of the above excuses rolled into this. I am busy and it is scary. But when it comes down to it, what I’ve realized is that ultimately I’m not having fun. This revelation came to me while reflecting on the fact that there are simply other stories that are drawing me in way more. I play in a superhero themed RPG, and I could fantasize about scenarios for my chaotic little porcupine child character all day. I write with strangers on Storium, an online collaborative storytelling platform, and think of plans for at least one of those characters daily. Even some of the stories I’ve been consuming, like Trigun: Stampede or The Sword of Shannara, have captured my attention more than my novel.
Which made me think: Why? What is it about those other stories that draws me in with such an irresistible draw and why doesn’t my story have it? My conclusion was thus: I like stories with characters that I love, and I am ambivalent to my protagonist. That’s right, the only thing worse than hateful: indifferent.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that I didn’t really have her figured out when I started. I tend to be a “start with the beginning and end and fill in the middle on the way” type of writer, and while I worked to do a little more pre-planning this time to save me some time, I still only had a vague feel for this young woman when I started. I hoped that she would gather more personality and motive on the way, but seeing as she’s in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by people who know what to do way better than she does, it’s been difficult for her to take charge in a way that lends itself to that kind of growth.
So, what to do?
First, I’ve taken some time to inventory the kinds of characters I like. One thing that was incredibly helpful while editing my first novel, The Yochni’s Eye, was looking at scenes that were boring and trying to come up with ways to really amp them up. If the stakes weren’t high, how could I ratchet them higher; if the setting was boring, how could I make it more unique or exciting? The same can apply to characters. I am a sucker for cool characters, so I’ve taken some time to reflect on what I do and don’t like as well as what could really “amp her up” in that regard.
Second, I’ve started thinking about her in context to the main antagonist. In writing The Yochni’s Eye, I realized I have a habit of having absent antagonists. But with this story, I’ve already got a better hold on my big bad and what drives this person. And since great stories usually feature protagonists and antagonists fighting for either the same thing or the flipside of the same thing, I can use my knowledge of this antagonist as a sort of mirror and chisel to better shape my protagonist, to better decide what qualities and values she needs to have to best take this person down.
Third, I’ve started looking for ways to better relate to her. This is something I learned a lot about in writing my first novel. Because one of my main characters was an escaped slave, and I have never had to deal with that level of cruelty and injustice, I worried that I wasn’t equipped to tell her story. It felt hard to connect with her in some ways and I worried I would be called out for writing about someone whose lived experiences were so different than mine. Now, that’s a whole rabbit trail of debate in itself, but the important thing I learned was to find ways to relate to her, even if our lives weren’t really all that similar. The same can apply here with my new protagonist. I’ve always thought it’s important to have compassion on every character I write. Now, as my journey has continued, I’ve started to realize the importance of relating to them, too.
How about you? Any traits you love to see in main characters or main characters that keep bringing you back? Any ways you’ve found to make your characters more likable for you? Let me know in the comments below, and if you’d like mini-craft lessons and writing news from me, make sure to sign-up for my newsletter or blog in the sidebar (you may need to leave mobile only mode). Thank you!