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Thursday, October 5

Day Five: Idea to Novel Workshop: Developing Your Protagonist

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Five of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, it’s all about the protagonist.

Choose Your Protagonist


The protagonist is the person driving the plot. In most cases she (or he) is the main character, and the plot will focus on her resolving the novel’s core conflict (the problem at the center of the novel).

There are plenty of things that make a great protagonist a great character, but in the idea and planning stage, it’s helpful to look at the traits that also help develop a plot or character arc. Tailor your notes and brainstorming to the side you prefer, or do both if you want to develop both sides simultaneously.

Why the protagonist is important: She’s the character readers will have to connect with, relate to, or empathize with in some way that makes them want to see how she resolves the problems placed in her path. She’s the reader’s guide to the novel.

The protagonist is the character we, as writers, should love (even if she’s not the nicest person) and hope that readers also love. If we aren’t excited about our protagonist, odds are readers won’t be either.

Some books have multiple protagonists—romance is a good example here, with the hero and the heroine both moving the plot forward toward a clear goal—but having too many protagonists can be an indication that the conflict isn’t defined yet.

If no one is a clear protagonist, the plot can lack drive, and you might find yourself halfway through the novel and wondering what happens next. If every character is trying to have their say, you might find yourself with multiple plot lines that leave readers wondering if they’re reading three books in one.

If you’re not sure who your protagonist is yet, answer the following questions with whoever is the best character for that role. If you do know who your protagonist is, think about how these questions apply.

1. Who has a problem that needs solving? What is that problem?

2. Who has the ability to act? How?

3. Who has reasons to act? What are they?

4. Who has something to lose? What is it?

5. Who has something to gain? What is it?

6. Who has the capacity to change? How so?

7. Who has a compelling quality? What is it?

8. Who has an interesting flaw? What is it?

9. Who has a secret? What is it?

10. Who has someone or something interesting in the way? Who or what is it?

EXERCISE: Describe your protagonist.


Not just the physical look (that’s okay if you know it already), but the type of person he or she is and any history you might know at this stage. Try to get a sense of who this character is and how the novel might unfold with a protagonist like this.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Four goes into more extensive detail on fleshing out your protagonist and creating a solid backstory and history for him or her. It also has exercises on developing secondary characters, and figuring out why types if characters you’ll need in the novel.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at your novel’s conflict.

Follow along at home with the book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound  | Google Books | Books-A-Million | Chapters/!ndio

Ebook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Overdrive | Kobo | Inktera | Chapters/!ndio

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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