Not the Advanced Readers Copies of books. I’m talking about your character’s emotional journey. As much as the external events of the story pull the character from one crisis to another, the emotional events of the story cause them to grow.
There are three people you need to focus on, typically:
Main Character(MC)-What makes someone the main character is that they are the PRIMARY DRIVER of the story. This isn’t always your sole point of view character, but the more you take away from them, the worse for your story, generally. They are the one with the most to lose, and their growth is a result of this. This is something I think Brenda Drake does well in Library Jumpers, for example. Gia discovers the magic of books, finds love, and finds danger, and grows as a result of all these things. The Gia of the beginning of the story, without those experiences, would not have been able to handle the climax of the story.
Love Interests(LI)-Almost all stories have these, because there’s nothing like intense emotion to heighten your tension. Love, more so than simply physical attraction, forces people to grow. Think of it like putting together a jigsaw: The first time you tried, it was overwhelming and you thought, there’s no way. Then you figured out you could put the edges together, and use the picture on the box to give you an idea of what it looks like. But you still have to figure out where each of the middle pieces go. Depending on the relationship, some puzzles are easier to solve. Some pieces click into place easily, other pieces take work, and others still will never fit right. Like, I love Owen dearly, but there are some parts of our relationship that we acknowledge are flawed. That’s okay. You don’t want everything perfect, you’ll get bored. Your love interest needs to grow almost as strongly as your MC, to stay worthy of them.
Antagonist (A)- Love and hate are two sides of the same proverbial coin-You can’t hate someone if you aren’t emotionally invested in them. If you, truly, don’t care about someone, you aren’t going to invest the energy in hating them. Feeling sorry for them, thinking they’re an ass, sure, but hating takes a lot of energy. To have a strong antagonist, there needs to be something they want, something they’re growing towards. The key? What they want most cannot happen if the MC and LI get their ways. To make them believable, they have to be at least as developed as the love interest, without making them too sympathetic that we don’t like your MC. If you’re having trouble with an antagonist that feels one dimensional, try seeing the story from their POV instead. If they were your protagonist, what would they think they’re trying to accomplish? How would they justify their actions?
So how to do this?
Go back to that outline, or make one: look at each scene, and ask yourself: What do I learn about MC/LI/A here? What situation, as a whole, ties them together? If your MC or Antagonist could just say “You know what? This is too much, I’m done.” and walk away unscathed past ~20%, you’ve got a major problem with their motives. They need to be in over their heads, and it needs to be intense for them. Whether the plot is full of explosions or personal revelations, it doesn’t matter. Your book will have a much stronger chance in the market if these characters have an emotional connection and the reader feels that.
Once you do that, look at how they bind together. They can’t get too comfortable with each other-If the LI and MC sit down for coffee to discuss their relationship, it needs to have tension still. If the Antagonist is a factor in that tension, all the better. Your MC should be willing to risk conflicting more with the Antagonist to make things work with LI, and vice versa.
Next week: POV!