Over the last week I’ve been steadily planning out Zenith Rising, the final book in my Fielding Trilogy, and figuring out how to tie off all the previous books’ character arcs in satisfying ways. While I was doing this, I came to realise with some creeping dread that my protagonist is one of the least interesting characters in the series. This goes against not only most rules of storytelling but also common sense; if the reader doesn’t connect with the protagonist, there’s little chance of them hanging around for much of the story.
When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how fantastic or interesting your story is unless you have a compelling, empathetic protagonist or two for the reader to experience it with. You could write the next Game of Thrones epic, but without your Jon Snows and Daenerys Targaryens to keep the plot surging forward, the Song of Ice and Fire is just a history lesson with dragons.
It’s a hard thing to admit I wrote something that was flawed in that respect, especially since I’m selling it as a product. But no book is perfect, and learning from mistakes is the only way to improve. Thankfully, my writing has improved after getting a few novels under my belt and I can now avoid this potential problem in future work. So developing my protagonists with more depth and conflict will be one of my key goals moving forward.
Character Development Resources
There are plenty of resources out there if you’re looking to learn more about this subject, here are a few I’ve found recently:
Chris Fox, Emergency Plot Surgery – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlLRvf7VMJ8&
A quick ten minute video where Chris talks about feedback he received from his beta readers and how he used it to improve his protagonist by adding internal conflict, improving dialogue, and making the character more active.
TV Tropes, Character Development – http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CharacterDevelopment
If you’ve never been to tvtropes.org then be warned now: you will tumble into an internet rabbit hole, losing hours before you wake up and realise you spent all morning learning about applied phlebotinum, one-winged angels, and whether androids really do dream.
Writing Excuses Podcast, Three Pronged Character Development – http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/03/30/writing-excuses-9-13-three-prong-character-development/
A legendary podcast for writers, this episode has Brandon Sanderson and company chat about a model for examining characters in which three primary attributes – Competence, Proactivity, and Sympathy – are contrasted.