Be the Quality Writer Your Protagonists Deserve

Gillian Sisley

Your main characters have a powerful story to tell — they need someone who knows them best to tell it with integrity.

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Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

People ask me what it takes to be a writer. I tell them a few things; it takes dedication, grit, creativity, communication skills… But most importantly, being a great writer isn’t something you’re born with.

It’s a learned skill which must be practiced, improved and exercised regularly in order to grow.

So what are some steps you can take today to ensure you improve your ability to tell a story and and be a better writer, instantly?

Below are 4 practices I’ve used for becoming a better writer instantly through knowing your main character of your story better than you know yourself.

Let’s dig in:

Imagine sitting across from your protagonist over coffee and talking about each other’s lives.

It doesn’t have to be an important conversation.

You’re just a stranger meeting another stranger for coffee. You can even start by talking about the weather, to break the ice a little. The conversation is allowed to start out awkward.

But after some small talk let there be an inexplicable connection between the two of you, which allows your protagonist to open up about their lives. Create space for them to become vulnerable and transparent.

Let them talk about what they’ve been through, what they’re currently going through, and the biggest struggle they’re facing right now.

Your main job here is to ask the odd question, but mostly just to listen.

Get to the bones of each other’s stories. Bear your hearts to each other. Cry together, yell at each other, head out to a bar and grab a drink together.

Go around the town on an adventure. Spend quality time together until you feel like you know your protagonist better than you know anyone — better than you know yourself.

Write about their backstory.

Pull out a pen or open up a document on your laptop, and start writing.

The information you write in this backstory doesn’t have to make it into your novel. Your readers never have to catch wind of it. You don’t ever have to tell anyone.

While you will explain your protagonist’s behaviourial traits throughout your novel, readers don’t often hear about the specific events from a character’s childhood which shaped them into the person they are today.

This information may not be crucial to the reader, but it’s important that you as the writer are in the know.

What explains your protagonist’s irrational fear of dogs? Why is your female protagonist distrustful of men? Why is your protagonist’s safe haven anywhere near the water?

Understanding where your main character has come from will dictate how they interact with the rest of the world and process events taking place around them.

When it comes to making a big decision, make a list of possible ways the character could react.

One of the biggest upsides to having an editor or a fellow writer look over your chapters is to be sure that your characters’ behaviours aren’t, well, out of character.

That isn’t to say your main character won’t grow to develop along the way of your story — if they don’t, your plot line is likely quite dry.

But considering why they’re behaving a certain way under their current circumstances is key to keeping important consistency within your storytelling.

When I feel torn about my main character’s reaction to a certain event, I sit down with a notepad and jot down every single possible reaction that comes to my mind.

From there, I go through the bullet points on my list one-by-one asking myself, “Is this reaction in character with how my protagonist would actually react?” Usually, by the end of this process, I know the next step to where the story will go.

Create a playlist of songs that would speak to your protagonist.

When choosing songs, imagine your character’s soul manifesting into music.

Songs which speak to their personal experiences, their deepest and darkest feelings, the parts of themselves that they have trouble communicating to other people.

Play this playlist when you’re writing, or when you’ve stepped away from your novel for a period of time and feel disconnected from your protagonist.

Use it as a tool to get back in touch with your plot and the emotions wrapped up in the story line of your novel.

It may serve as one of your better allies when you find yourself in a tough spot and are finding it difficult to write.

Final word.

As already stated, becoming a great writer, or even a published author, is about practice, dedication and grit.

One way to ensure you improve your writing instantly would be through knowing your characters extremely well.

If a writer doesn’t do their due diligence in their research, than their stories will contain inconsistencies and will confuse the reader. Do the research with your characters by getting to know them in intimate and powerful ways.

When you know them, you can write them. When you can write them, you’re creating a story.

When that story is complete, you might just have a novel.

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