Thursday, December 13, 2012
Guest post by Mya Kay author of A Song For Jordan
Building a Strong “Weak” Protagonist
When I first created Jordan (my protagonist in my newest novel, A Song for Jordan), I knew that I wanted her to be weak. But even weak characters have to have character. Nobody wants to root for an underdog that doesn’t make people sympathize with them. With Jordan, there were three things I wanted to focus on most:
1) I wanted her to shine even through her weakness.
2) I wanted her to be compelling.
3) I wanted readers to be able to see her alter ego (the new her that would eventually shine through)
I think building a strong protagonist is hard enough. But when you have a character that naturally doesn’t put up a fight for the things they want in life, you have to give them another dynamic so that readers will want to know what’s going to happen next with this person.
Jordan actually ended up being stronger than I even I gave her credit for. Whenever she played the piano or wrote a new song, her strength shined through. It was just a silent strength. And it didn’t come packaged the way most people would think.
I believe writers should understand that even when you have a character that is supposed to be “weak” and ends up transforming in the end, there still needs to be a strength that your readers can see, even if it’s subliminal. Here are some key ways to make sure your “weak” character has a poise that your readers still find fascinating:
1.) Make sure you give your character something they have to gain before the end of the story. Your character shouldn’t just have an outside end goal, but an internal end goal. A lot of How-To books say this, but I think people have to remember that this is especially important with weak characters.
2.) Make sure your character’s internal goal is realistic. For me, I had to make sure Jordan didn’t get too “strong” too fast. She had a long way to go from being timid to boisterous when it came to relationships in her life. If she had just gone off on someone early in the book, readers would’ve felt like they didn’t know who she was. Even with weak characters, readers want to feel like they know how the person is going to react. The pattern of behavior should only break at some point after the climax.
3.) Give your antagonist some power. In a book like A Song for Jordan, there was more than one antagonist. Everybody wasn’t a bully, but I definitely needed for my antagonists to have some power. They all were able to control Jordan some way, somehow, even if it was just mentally. It made Jordan’s weakness seem more believable. It was understood that “maybe Jordan acts this way because so-and-so is this way”.
4.) Finally, make sure your character’s weakness makes sense. Jordan didn’t have to be super weak for her weakness to be believable. It was a matter of making her weakness and the plot flow right together. Of course, the antagonists in the book made this easier. That’s why it’s important to know what and who your main character is going to have to face before you start. Map it out so that you can figure out which scenes you can use to show your protagonist’s weakness and eventually growth.
Just as I mentioned above, even a weak character has to grow. That’s the most important thing to remember when working with your main character. Show growth. Give your readers something to root for. Otherwise, you will lose them before your story even starts.