The Top 3 Things You Need to Know About Your Protagonist or Ideal Reader

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay 

A common mistake I see people make in book creation is to focus on plot or structure way too early in the process. While these are absolutely important aspects of the book creation puzzle, we need to take care of a few other important pieces first.

As I always say, the people come first. This means that before we can begin to think about plot or structure, we need to get to know our characters. When I say “character,” I mean the protagonist, antagonists, and supporting characters in your novel or memoir. I also mean the Ideal Reader for your non-fiction, self-help book.

Here’s how it breaks down for each.

Fiction—Protagonist, antagonists, supporting characters… The people who help and hinder the protagonist on her quest.

Memoir—You and your family, friends, exes, and more… The cast of characters who have helped create the story of your life, for better or worse.

Non-fiction, Self-help—Your Ideal Reader and You… If you plan to weave your own story into your book.

So, how do we get to know our people?

Here are three essential points we need to consider in character development (think of your Ideal Reader for your non-fiction, self-help book as a character in the story you’re writing about and responding to).

Deepest Desire
Fiction—This is the state of being the protagonist in your novel wants more than anything—what the story is all about.

Memoir—This is the state of being you, as the protagonist in your memoir, looked for throughout your life—possibly unwittingly—that has led you through the thrills and tribulations of your life.

Non-fiction, Self-help—This is the reason your Ideal Reader wants your help—the state of being they yearn for AFTER they’ve experienced your method, program, or process, which you will walk them through in your book.

Deepest Wound
Fiction—This is the event or situation that happened in your protagonist’s life—likely early on—that causes them to yearn for their deepest desire.

Memoir—This is the event or situation that happened to you at some point in your life that likely caused you to repeat unhealthy patterns and/or changed your life and who you were.

Non-fiction, Self-help—This is the event or situation in your ideal Reader’s life at some point that makes makes her want her deepest desire (and your help).

Deepest Fear
Fiction—This is the belief your protagonist has about what will happen if she doesn’t realize her deepest desire and likely creates an unconscious obstacle to her success.

Memoir—This is your belief about yourself or about the world that allowed persistent unhealthy patterns to remain in place… until, of course, you gained the perspective necessary to change the pattern and write your memoir.

Non-fiction, Self-help—This is what your Ideal Reader fears will happen if she doesn’t (or in some cases, if she DOES) realize her deepest desire.

So… why is knowing this information so important?

When we begin to know our people this deeply, the plot begins to unfold naturally. And when we begin to see the plot unfold, we can begin to think about structure. Because when we understand the whats and the whys behind our people’s actions, we can begin to envision mileposts along the trajectory of their stories.

To put this all in context, think about your best friend. When you first met her/him, you had an unformed opinion about who they were. As you got to know them over time, they became more real and easier to empathize with. This is how we want to think of and treat our people—our characters and Ideal Readers… by understanding and caring about their deepest life experiences and feelings.

This quote says it all:

“Knowing a person is like music. What attracts us to them is their melody, and as we get to know who they are, we learn their lyrics.” – Anonymous

After we know more about our people—and memorize their lyrics—we can then move forward with the creation of our book. The way this takes shape is different in the non-fiction, self-help book than in the novel or memoir.

Come back soon for the next post—How to Create Structure in Your Non-Fiction, Self-Help Book—and I’ll give you a few tips and tricks.

Until then, do some writing on the three points above for all the major players in your story, and let me know in the comments below what you discover.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing

Plotting and Pinching for NaNoWriMo

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m the latter. Without a doubt. In fact, I vehemently resist plotting. My intuition guides me through my story. I know who my characters are, I know what they want, and I know where they will be at the end.

I’m happy to sit down and pour out the connecting scenes that bubble up from my unconscious and get them on the page. I don’t suffer from writer’s block.

BUT… and this is a big one… there’s a lot to be said for creating a timeline/outline that serves as a road map for the creation of a novel. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a bunch of scenes only to realize you’ve left the protagonist’s deepest desire in the dust or the connections aren’t being made or the pacing is out of whack or…

This week, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on my in-progress novel, Miranda’s Garden, which is about one-third of the way “finished.” I’ve created a time/outline in various forms.

  • A long-form textual portrait-oriented document that breaks down my acts and everything I’ve completed so far so I can fill in what’s to come – So. Much. Detail.
  • A more abridged version of that long-form document wherein I distill the key plot points and pinch points of the story, with each one highlighted for easy identification, and also includes the percentage of the story that should be told at each juncture, along with anticipated page numbers, based on a 250-word novel and a 300-word novel.
  • Index cards on the floor that condense and distill even more.
  • A highly distilled landscape-oriented version of the above. (See image below.)

If you want to get the most out of NaNoWriMo, I highly recommend creating one of these, even if you’re a pantser like me. Even if you highly resist doing so—like a cat being put into a tub of water—like me.

Creating this timeline/outline for yourself won’t rob you of your pantsing opportunities. There will be plenty of room for that within the framework you create. And I have to admit, seeing it all boiled down in front of me makes it all feel a whole lot more doable.

Best of luck to you in your novel writing adventures in November. I’d love to hear how the diagram helps and what your experience was like when December 1 rolls around.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!

Johnnie
XO