Posts Tagged central character

Does a story’s protagonist have to be likable? We discuss! Ep 29 FREE podcast for writers

Does the main character of a story have to be likable or sympathetic? It’s a point that’s frequently raised by writers, readers, editors and critics. But consider this: a story is usually about a person under pressure. And people under pressure don’t always behave well or likably. Because they’re not saints.

On the other hand, they must have something that makes the reader care. So what is that?

We’re discussing that in today’s show. ‘We’, in case you’re wondering, are independent bookseller Peter Snell and moi.

Stream from the widget below or go to our Mixcloud page and binge the whole lot.

PS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books (especially my book on characters). If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. If you’d like to support bricks-and-mortar bookstores (US only at present) use And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.

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‘Music, grief and sibling rivalry’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

for logoMy guest this week used the Moonlight Sonata to guide her through her latest novel. A central character was a pianist, and the story explores the emotions and reckonings that emerge in the wake of his death. She says the Moonlight pulled her in surprising directions, peeling off the layers of a family’s bonds and rifts, and illuminating a complex web of relationships and resentments. The piece became so significant that when she launched the novel, she persuaded her husband to give a performance of the first movement. She is award-winning author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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If you hate writing a character… don’t write them

Writers are often asked which of their characters they hated writing.

The expected answer is usually the murderer, the villain, the cheating wife, the despicable and repugnant millionaire …

Brace yourselves, non-writers. We enjoy creating those people.

But if I dislike a character, if they are a chore… I change the character.

It’s nothing to do with whether they spoil things for my other characters. I’m just as excited to write my bad people as angels. But if sharing headspace with a character is not appealing, it means I’m not interested enough to write them well. And the reader will feel the same heartsink sensation whenever their eye alights on that darned name.

Here’s what to do.

Cut them

If they don’t excite you and the rest of the story does, perhaps it’s a sign they don’t have any effect on the world of the novel. Are they needed at all?

Are they only in the book to give a central character a plausible background, for instance a mother? Have you written her in too much detail, perhaps tried to give her scenes by herself and come up with only trivialities? If a character is in the cast to flesh out another character’s life, it’s perfectly okay to write only the scenes where they are together. Or narrate them from the perspective of the more important character.

But they will become important

Perhaps they’re in the book because they do something important later on. Try cutting the earlier appearances. Not all the cast has to be on stage from the word go. Could your dull character begin as a walk-on and gradually become a significant speaking part? Characters are allowed to blossom late – that can be very rewarding to read. But until they become useful, don’t make them tread water or amble aimlessly. (Or if they must, make them do it outside your book.)

Splice them with someone else

You might find you have several characters who perform roughly the same story function – and this may be what’s bugging you. Could you ditch most tedious one and give their role to someone else? Combining two characters might also give you a fresh perspective on other parts of the story.

Give them even more to do

Yes, you’re already grudging the time you spend with these blots, but I’ve often found my attitude changes completely if I beef up their role. Challenge them, make them a more crucial link in a chain, tighten their attachment to one of the other characters and watch them transform from soggy to sparkling.

Don’t soldier on

If you loathe writing certain people, it’s a sure sign that you need to take action. Don’t soldier on, dragging them through scene after scene, thinking it’s part of your writing duty to sometimes find things hard. Find what makes you want to write them.

Thanks for the pic rotokirby  

Have you had a character you hated writing? What did you do about it? Share in the comments!

You can find tips for writing and revision in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.

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