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Writing Efficiently: Pick your Protagonist

Writing my first book was a lot of fun, but I had no clue what I was doing. I pieced together my education with local workshops, how-to books and writing conventions. Oh yeah, and I read a ton of books, which was awesome because I could tell my husband that I was "working" while I curled up in bed to read a delicious novel. Five years later, I had a book that was ready to be copyedited. I learned a lot, and found my own process along the way. But at the end of it all I asked myself, "could I have done this faster?"


In the writing world, there are planners (those who outline an entire book first), pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants), and plansters (a combination of the two). I am a planster - I am most successful when I have an overall structure that allows me the room to change course and get creative. But it took a lot of trial and error for me to get to this point, and I had to combine the different things I learned into my own method. I found that what works for one writer may not work for another, or something might work after it's tweaked to fit your particular work style. It was painstaking and took a significant amount of time. I am hoping to avoid this with my second book, and I thought it would be helpful to me, and possibly even helpful to others, to document my steps along the way.


The first step that I need to take to avoid making the same mistakes I did with my first book, Rain City Lights, is this: Pick Your Protagonist.


With my first book, I had three major characters and tried to give them equal spotlight. I ended up with an extra plot line that kept me from developing the heart of the story that really mattered, and it took two years of effort before I finally realized I just needed to suck it up and cut that extra plot line. What ensued afterwards felt like magic - the story naturally fell into place and I asked myself, "why didn't I do this sooner? How could I have avoided this?"


I got the idea for my second novel while on a family vacation. We were driving up Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island and I swear, I saw a white deer standing stark still in a misty forest. I wanted to point and tell my family what I was seeing, but I was speechless. It was like seeing a living fable, and I wasn't sure if it was real. The setting and the characters for my next book quickly unraveled in my mind (this is actually the foreword to the first step. You need a setting, time and place to go along with your protagonist). I started mulling these ideas in my head, picked a theme and even wrote 50,000 words during Nanowrimo. But once I started to edit those words, I realized I was stuck. I had focused on three characters. I loved them equally and wrote in such a way where each one had the spotlight. And then, sadly, I realized I had to pick one. Only one of these characters could take that final bow at center stage when the curtain dropped. The other two characters will still be very important, but everything they do will have to either directly or indirectly affect the course of that single protagonist. Is it possible to have more than one protagonist? For sure, but I don't have the time right now to write a 200,000+ word tome of a book. I'm trying to write efficiently, get this novel hustle rolling so that one day I might be able to give all the characters I love their time in the light.


If you're at the beginning of your story and you're unsure where to go, may I suggest you ask yourself this question - who will be taking center stage to bow alone before a standing ovation at the end of your story? If you can't answer this question, then just start writing. Set a goal - 5,000, 10,000, or heck, maybe even 50,000 words. Get those pictures and ideas out of your head and onto the page, and then ask yourself again. Because in order to start your writing process efficiently, it will be extremely helpful to frame your ideas around this one, special person - your protagonist.


Copyright © 2020 by Marissa Harrison

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©2019 by Marissa Harrison