Protagonists/Antagonists

While I was at the Writer’s Intensive conference in Cincinatti last month, I took some time to browse their selection of mostly “how-to” books and decided their 10 percent discount was too good to pass up.

I purchased The Fire in Fiction, a 265-page paperback by writer/literary agent Donald Maass of New York City.

Because I’ve been swamped in re-writing my novel, setting up this blog, running my Web Design business, AND tending to my family, I haven’t been able to immerse myself in reading; however, this reference book is one that should be on every writer’s bookshelf (or, better, beside the computer!)

Maass grabs you from the get-go by reminding you that it takes 10 hours to read the average novel, and readers usually spend 10 days with a single book. That means we writers must create a bond between reader and protagonist. Maass says too many submissions to his agency involve protagonists who are flawed, hopeless, cardboard stereotypes who, instead of engaging the reader, turn him off.

Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes with someone who’s always whining about his past or someone who’s perfect and has a perfect life!

To counteract this problem, Maass suggests writers get inside their characters’ heads and hearts as soon as they can. He says even a tiny positive characteristic will convince readers your protagonist is worthy of their time, and that likeable heroes generally have self-awareness and even poke fun at their own flaws.

Maass decries the antagonists he meets in too many manuscripts — they’re just too evil, he says. Instead, writers should look at the people who oppose them in real life; even the “helpers” with the highest of intentions are rarely deterred. To truly be frightening, he says, antagonists must be human and understandable, active and determined.

I can hardly wait to read more!

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