Agent Don Maass Explains Your Tools for Character Building

Without a quality of strength on display, your readers will not bond with your protagonist. Why should they? No one wants to spend four minutes, let alone four hundred pages, with a miserable excuse for a human being or even a plain old average Joe. So, what is strength?
Author:
Publish date:

Finding a Protagonist's Strength

Step 1: Is your protagonist an ordinary person? Find in him any kind of strength.

Step 2: Work out a way for that strength to be demonstrated within your protagonist's first five pages.

Step 3: Revise your character's introduction to your readers.

Without a quality of strength on display, your readers will not bond with your protagonist. Why should they? No one wants to spend four minutes, let alone four hundred pages, with a miserable excuse for a human being or even a plain old average Joe. So, what is strength? It can be as simple as caring about someone, self-awareness, a longing for change, or hope. Any small positive quality will signal to your readers that your ordinary protagonist is worth their time.

Image placeholder title

Literary Agent Don Maass

Finding a Hero's Flaws

Step 1: Is your protagonist a hero - that is, someone who is already strong? Finding in him something conflicted, fallible, humbling or human.

Step 2: Work out a way for that flaw to be demonstrated within your protagonist's first five pages.

Step 3: Revise your character's introduction to your readers. Be sure to soften the flaw with self-awareness or self-depreicating humor.

Heroes who are nothing but good, noble, unswerving, honest, courageous, and kind to their mothers will make your readers want to gag. To make heroes real enough to be likable, it's necessary to make them a little bit flawed. What is a flaw that will not also prove fatal? A personal problem, a bad habit, a hot button, a blind spot, or anything that makes your hero a real human being will work. However, this flaw cannot be overwhelming. That is the reason for adding wise self-awareness or a rueful sense of humor.

The Impact of Greatness

Step 1: Does your story have a character who is supposed to be great? Choose a character (your protagonist or another) who is, has been, or will be affected by that great character.

Step 2: Note the impact on your point-of-view character. In what ways is she changed by the great character? How specifically is her self-regard for actual life different? Is destiny involved? Detail the effect.

Step 3: Write out that impact in a paragraph. It can be backward looking (a flashback frame) or a present moment of exposition.

 Step 4: Add that paragraph to your manuscript.

Greatness is not always about esteem. Those affected by great people may be ambivalent. Whatever the case in your story, see if you can shade the effect of your great character to make it specific and captured nuances. The effect of one character upon another is as particular as the characters themselves.

Image placeholder title

Excerpted from The Fire in Fiction
(2009, Writer's Digest Books). You can
find the book in the F+W Bookstore here
.
Donald Maass runs his own agency
in New York City.

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Presenting the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest featuring a collection of articles about how curiosity fuels writers, including the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers and a new interview with Chris Bohjalian.

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Popular lecturer and biographer Joshua M. Greene discusses the hardship of writing the biographies of Holocaust survivors, and the biography that convinced him to continue writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The May/June 2021 Issue, a Chance at Publication, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce that the May/June 2021 “Curiosity” issue is now live in the WD shop, there’s still time to have your From Our Reader’s response selected for publication in the July/August 2021 “Bravery” issue, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 18

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an ekphrastic poem.

Personal Essay Awards

Announcing the First Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the first annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

From Script

Movie Theatres Return While Indie Cinema and TV Turns to Horror and Beyond (From Script)

In this week’s round-up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, read movie reviews from cinephile Tom Stemple. Plus, exclusive interviews with Amazon’s Them creator and showrunner Little Marvin, horror film Jakob’s Wife director Travis Stevens, a history lesson with Dr. Rosanne Welch about trailblazer screenwriter Anita Loos, and much more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 17

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a waiting poem.

GettyImages-119430542

Your Story #112

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

Self-Published Ebook Awards

Announcing the 8th Annual Self-Published E-book Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 8th Annual Self-Published E-book Awards! Discover the titles that placed in the categories of contemporary fiction, fantasy, memoir, mystery, and more.