How to create an intriguing lead character

So, how do you create an intriguing lead character for your novel? How do you get readers to love your protagonist? You might be thinking, hold on a minute, protagonist!? I don’t even know what my novel is about yet! Well, that’s kind of the point. We’re trying to avoid the internal censor that tells you your ideas are silly. Stick with this exercise. It will generate interesting ideas, interesting leads for you. The magic will come with the redrafting, which you’ll do later.

Answer these questions first, so you’ve got a couple of characters to work with. Pick one.

Three more questions

You have three more questions to answer, plus a bonus fourth question. Each time, make a list – no need to write sentences – simply get words and phrases down.

  1. What does your character want?
  2. Why do people like this person and what is this person good at?
  3. What is this person’s weakness, and what mistakes he or she has made?

I’ll talk you through how it works:

Think about what your main character WANTS. What is their biggest desire? Make a list – keep jotting down possibilities until you find something that works. These WANTS are likely to be connected to something that happened very early in their fictional lives. You can decide that later if you like, but if anything leaps out at you, write it down.

Now decide why people like this person. Make a list – again, jot down several possibilities. It’s likely this list will help you with the next part of the question: what is this person good at? And how does this manifest itself specifically? For instance, this person is good at listening. Specifically, he spends Sunday afternoon listening to his elderly neighbour’s stories and recording them as part of an oral history project. This person is courageous. Specifically, he is a volunteer life guard and rescues a drowning fisherman in a storm. Notice that it’s when you get specific about what they are good at that possible stories start to emerge. Make a list of what he or she is good at and how it manifests itself specifically.

Now decide what this person’s weakness is, and what mistakes he or she has made. In the same way, make a list, and then note how this manifests itself specifically. Getting to that specificity is important, so don’t skip this stage.

Get tough

Now I’m going to give you your bonus fourth question:

4. What tough thing has happened in this fictional character’s life?

Make some notes. A list is fine. Again, try to be specific.

Want to know why specificity is so important? Read this!


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