A Writing Journey

Growing a Character

I have been working on my fifth draft of Quest for Salvation. My biggest task has been to make my main character, Lacey Wentwether, less reactive and more proactive. It’s a task. Admittedly, she’s come a long way from draft number one, in which she had very little personality and was, quite honestly, a damsel in distress. She’s grown a lot. She has more internal motivation, a deeper connection to those around her, and a desire to make things better for her best friend, Tomis.

What has happened between the first draft and the fifth? Well, I have read A LOT about character. I’ve got folders full of bookmarks for the articles and I’ve got stacks of magazine articles. I’ve written three other drafts, each time taking steps to give Lacey more personality, more life. And, most of all, I’ve tried to eliminate the cliches from my novel (not that it has entirely worked, but it is MUCH better than before). Beyond this, Lacey has really stepped up. No, she doesn’t talk to me (the way some writers say their characters talk to them) but I know she can handle the increased pressure. She has to – she’s my protagonist.

There are a few things (other than the reading and redrafting) that have helped me expand Lacey. I wrote a prequel to Quest for Salvation. It’s a short thing, only seven chapters long, called Book of Salvation. It ends right where Quest for Salvation picks up (though the time frame is off – she was much younger in the prequel than she is in QFS) and it showed me how she first came to Ruslaht (the capital of the Empire). I know how she met her mentor and teacher Ellison, and I know how she felt about living with her aunt and uncle. I know how she first met Tomis, and I know how grieved she was to leave Ohmlaur. All of this made her more real to me than she’d ever been before.

Another thing I did was start work on book 2 (working title: Scourge of the Daiyen). This way, I saw how the events of QFS led to the future events (not to mention it helped with refining quite a few of the minor characters in book 1). I wrote about the aftermath of everything that had happened and saw how it put a strain on Lacey’s relationships with the others.*

The third thing I did was write the very end of Lacey’s story. I know exactly what it is all progressing towards, and I know how she has to get there now. Which means I know what traits must at least be hinted at that will get her there.

And so, all of this helps in making her the best protagonist she can be.  It’s an exciting journey from damsel in distress to idealistic mapmaker. I hope you have as much fun honing your characters as I do mine!

Take care, fellow travelers.

*I’m being intentionally vague because I hate spoilers, and I know you probably do to.

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Comments on: "Growing a Character" (8)

  1. I find writing backstory for my characters helps a lot, too. I’ve only done it in depth with two of my five so far (why did I decide to have so many protagonists?!) but it’s made a huge difference. See also: why my second draft is taking so long.

    • Hmm, I imagine writing five protagonists would be diificult. It’s been hard for me to write the backstory for my more minor characters. It’s really more that I learn more about them as I forge ahead. But, the effort of writing it down and developing even minor characters is well worth it. It’s more fulfilling to write about well-rounded, interesting characters. 🙂 I wish you luck in your rewrite!

  2. Chelsea Howard said:

    Really interesting! Always love seeing a different perspective on how writers develop ideas into words

  3. Fifth draft, whoa! Struggling as I do with only the second, I dread to think I may need five or more. Glad to read your protagonist is developing. Mine still lacks a bit of flesh.

    • Oh yes, the second draft is a challenge. Still, the story gets better every time a new draft is written. 🙂 Good luck with your protagonist – they can be hard work!
      Take care.

  4. Good post (thanks for the pingback—and the other links)! I’m glad to hear that you’ve worked out some of the kinks—always something to celebrate.

    It’s an excellent idea to write a prequel—even if you just do it for you with no intention of including it with the novel. I may try that the next time I get stuck. I definitely agree that sometimes it helps to write the character later on in their journey if they’re stuck in the present, it often helps me get out of a rut.

    • You’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
      I love writing about my characters at different points in their lives. You are right – it helps to get out of the rut. I definitely suggest trying the prequel. I know it was helpful for me because I knew her backstory, but it became more real when I wrote it.
      Take care!

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