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Develop your plot with protagonist characteristics

Story News Advice Blog 1 Sep 21 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. In the last "Story News" advice blog, I discussed how a writer puts story ideas to work. For this bog, we’ll delve into plot as it relates to protagonist characteristics.

As we know, plot means a plan of action or how a story goes, what happens, how, where, when, why and so forth. What would be a protagonist characteristic? A characteristic is a distinguishing trait, feature or quality. The protagonist is the main character in a story whether he or she is the narrator or not. Thus a protagonist characteristic would be a distinguishing trait, feature or quality of the main character in a story.

So, how does this comport – how would the distinguishing trait, feature or quality of the main character guide the plot? Indeed, the fate of the author depends on how well she or he pulls this off.

Let’s start with the way not to describe the protagonist: he is 6 feet tall, say, with a scar on his left cheek. He might be called shy; however, he compensates by talking only about social things, weather, sports, good restaurants, common gossip and on and on. He has secrets, things that bother him although he never talks about these. The plot revolves around nullifying one of these secrets. He tells the girl he just met a deep-down bothersome secret.

If the plot truly lies in nullifying a secret, this revelation of it to the girl destroys the plot. No matter that he, being 6 feet tall with a scar on his left cheek, has nothing to do with his being shy or his revelation to the girl. His characteristics not only does nothing to advance the plot, it decimate it. Now, let’s take another example.

Being shy, John has to cover up his secrets with inane social chatter. One of his male co-workers mentioned that he used to play basketball for his high school team. Deep down in his memory John remembers how he was asked to come out for basketball by his school basketball coach. He loved the idea because he excelled on outdoor courts. He turned down the coach saying that he didn’t have the time what with studies and all. The secret lying behind this refusal embarrassed him greatly: he couldn’t stand being naked in front of other boys in the locker-room showers.

Because playing basketball for the school would require him being naked in front of other boys, he had not played. Whenever another male mentions basketball, his secret blazes forth in his mind, and he reverts to social chatter about basketball. The theme of the story – Will John overcome his shyness and succeed in life? The plot revolves around this theme. Now, enter the girl who recognizes that John is shy and unhappy. She has her own subplot, which can be revealed later through her actions. She takes on the task of helping John recover from his shyness. Hence, the plot – how will she do this? Will she succeed? What will happen to John due to her actions?

Which scenario do you prefer? If you are like most readers, the second one would grab your interest while the first would hit the trash can. Make certain your protagonist characteristics align with the theme and plot of your story. In other words, each characteristic you mention in your writing my forward or complicate the plot.

In the next issue of the blog Story News, I will give you some ideas on other ways to inform a plot.

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