As I am going through and editing my third Victorian novel, I am re-evaluating how my heroine comes across on the page. In the first draft, the ideas are allowed to flow with little “supervision,” but the second and third drafts are where I check to make sure that my heroine has that little dash of sparkle to make her likable as I had intended. Here are a few things that I double-check for my character’s development throughout the story:
1. They have something that makes them special. What makes them stand out? Do they have strength, whit, beauty, musical ability or a great imagination?
Examples: Jean Valjean’s inhuman strength from working as a prisoner (Les Miserables) or Anne Shirley’s overactive imagination (Anne of Green Gables).
2. BUT they are NOT perfect. Once you have picked what makes your character unique, you need to figure out their flaws. Is the heroine too swift to judge? Is she spoiled? Does the hero put up unnecessary walls? Imperfection is what makes the character real and relatable for readers, so don’t be afraid to make your heroine flawed.
Example: Think about Anne of Green Gable’s temper. What would the book be without the famous smashing the slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head for calling her carrots and yanking her hair scene? It was endearing and yet, showed she had a massive temper when it came to being teased over what she thought was her greatest “flaw,” her beautiful red hair.
3. They have a problem. My grad school teacher once said that only trouble is interesting, so give your characters some major trouble to create your plot or minor trouble to move the story along. Click here for a post on creating small problems for your character.
4. They take action even in spite of the consequences. No one wants to read about a stagnant protagonist. In order for characters to become heroes, they can’t be too afraid to take action, but even if the character is paralyzed with fear, it will still bring about consequences through their lack of action; however, cowardly characters aren’t usually called a hero, but this could present an opportunity to develop their growth, but we will talk about that in just a moment.
Example of taking action: Anne Shirley hates her red hair, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and dye it “a beautiful raven black.” However, we all know that it ended up being pea green! Sadly for Anne, oftentimes her actions led to “fatal” consequences.
For a post on the consequences of your protagonist’s action/choice, click here.
5. They have a secret. This can add loads of internal conflict with external consequences.
Example: Jean Valjean’s secret is that he was a ex-convict, yet he holds the position as mayor and has a constant fear of being found out.
6. Something is trying to thwart them. What’s a good protagonist without an antagonist? How your character reacts to the antagonist will say a lot about their character and will either cause them to stumble or grow.
Example: Inspector Javert is obsessed with the capture of Valjean and yet, when Valjean has a chance to end his problems by obeying orders to execute Javert during the rebellion, he releases Javert instead.
7. They can grow. Remember those flaws that you picked out or those problems you have placed in their path? Don’t let the story end with the heroine still having snobby tendencies. When you give them a flaw, you want them to gradually recognize it throughout the story by placing problems in their path to cause that recognition and push them towards the development of new thoughts and ideas.
Example: When Gilbert almost dies, Anne realizes that she has let her temper come between them for far too long and that she needs to release her grudge against him. In the beginning of the book, her temper is endearing, but if Anne continues to give in to her temper at the end of the book, imagine the disappointment of the millions of readers if she didn’t forgive Gilbert? They wouldn’t have fallen in love!
Hope you are having a great week of writing and editing! Happy Writing!
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