Building a Main Character

Creating a loveable and interesting protagonist is much like building a house from the ground up. I’ve done both myself several times and here’s what it entails:

1. What will the house or main character look like? I have the setting (lot location) already in mind, but now I need structure; I need characters. There may be a brochure or similar houses in the neighborhood to give me an idea of the exterior of my eventual home. On the character side, most of my protagonists have been a combination of acquaintances and characters from other books, with a dose of personality thrown in that’s not quite like any of the previous. Next, I go to a site like iSTOCKPHOTO. There I can search a visual database of thousands of pictures. It helps me write when the character is staring back from my desktop.

For this fictional story, and one I most likely will never finish, my protagonist is a loving grandma who bakes pies and gives them to friends and family. It’s what’s in the pies that make this grandmother a different type of cook. Each variety of pie not only delicious, but they also have a magical purpose. The apple pie makes you want to do a good deed, eating the pumpkin pie gives you bravery, the peach pie forces you to be nice to your siblings, and the rhubarb pie has a deadly purpose.  Okay, you get the idea.

I have had two wonderful grandmas myself, know many more. But what will my story’s grandma look like? In iStock, you can purchase photos or just download a sample (although, the sample is not usable – or legal – for websites or book jackets). In their search engine, I type Grandmother… pies  and the results are instantly displayed.

This particular grandmother started out playing a large role in one of the two books I’ve written. I used one of istock’s sale periods and purchased her along with others for an eventual book trailer. As edits and critiques came and went, so did grandma. But I have revived her for this post.Senior lady with homemade cake2. So now that I have the exterior, it’s time to build the interior. This is the part that will take the longest time to finish and even when completed, it will continue to be tweaked. You are the designer. Each of the rooms need to be interesting or draw attention, much like the characters need to have dialog, unique traits, and skills that allow them to solve a problem. It’s this stage where a first draft may lead to numerous changes as you rearrange the furniture that allow the protagonist to bring forth the various facets of his or her personality.

3. The final step is the inspection. Building a house can take 9-12 months and inspections happen each step of the way. This is often true for building characters and a great story.Let other eyes experience your story. Critique groups, hiring an editor for a developmental edit, or letting what you have written sit for 5-6 weeks, so that you can see your baby with a fresh perspective.

Keep at it and soon you will have a sold sign on your story. sign

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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