Sunday, May 20, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love – The Want

Dear friend,

You're doing wonderful!

You have named your protagonist and birthed him or her into the world. You’re ready to begin shaping your firstborn creation.

Right now, you’re probably thinking about things like what color eyes, hair and skin he or she has. You’re trying to decide what kind of job he has, where she goes to school or what kind of car he drives.

Stop it. Forget about all that right now. 

What? Forget about what my protagonist looks like?

Exactly. Fuggettaboutit! The car, the school, the physical appearance. All of it. None of that matters at this point. But there is one thing that does matter about your protagonist…one important thing.
What does your protagonist want more than anything in the world?

The first thing you must nail down about your protagonist is what she wants more than anything else. Think about the one thing your heroine desires above all other things. It must be something significant such as a large sum of money, a new job, a promotion, the love of a parent, or a soul mate who loves unconditionally.

I answered the above question this way for my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse

The protagonist, Sandra Porter, wants friends worse than anything. 

At the beginning of the story, she befriends a quirky girl named Lexie. She also meets up with an edgy guy named Mack. Her desire is to form a deeper relationship with these two, even though her gut keeps telling to her to stay as far away from the both of them as she can. Her deep-seated need for their friendship ends up winning out over her primal fight-or-flight urge.

What does your protagonist want?

After you answer this question, there are two more questions to answer when thinking about what your protagonist wants.
  • What exactly would have to happen, literally, for your protagonist to get what she wants, and be truly happy?
  • Why does your protagonist feel the driving need to get what she wants?

It’s not enough for your heroine to want something more than anything else in the world. You must also figure out why she wants it so badly, and what would have to happen for her to feel like she’s gotten what she wants. To take it a step further, you need to figure out what would make your protagonist happy about winning her prize.

You've got to know why your protagonist wants what she wants.

For Sandra Porter, I answered the first question about my heroine getting what she wants something like this…

Sandra wants friends because up until the point where she starts spending time with Lexie, she’s been completely alone. She hasn’t had any friends—or even any family. She hasn't had any human connection. Her parents made her feel like she doesn’t deserve friends. She misguidedly believes the only thing she deserves is solitude.

Deep down, she wants to know in her heart that she’s worthy of having friends and meaningful relationships. She wants to see something valuable about herself. She believes that if she can have at least one true friend in her life, she can prove to her parents—and to the world—that she's special and worthy of friendship.

I answered the second question about what would have to happen in order for Sandra to be truly happy this way…

In order for Sandra to feel like she’s gotten what she wants, and be truly happy, she would have to make a true friend that she'd be able to bare her soul to. The true friend in this case, is Lexie. Lexie would be the type of friend who accepts Sandra unconditionally. She'd tell Sandra that she really understands Sandra's feelings. And this friend would keep Sandra’s deepest darkest secrets safe always.

This friend would also stand up for Sandra at all times, and never belittle her.

If Sandra can get and keep a friend who does these things, she will feel like she’s gotten what she wants, and be content for once in her life.

Knowing what your protagonist wants more than anything, and more important, why she wants it, is one of the most critical steps in writing a novel that readers love.

Keep in mind that you must be specific in naming the thing your protagonist wants. Yet, make that something a prize that others, like your readers, want for themselves. She must want something that has significant meaning to her. If you do this, you will quickly create a bond of empathy between your heroine and your reader. 

To say it another way, your reader will quickly like your protagonist.

Identifying something significant that your hero wants will also help you craft a story line that can span the entire length of a novel with ease.

In my next letter, we'll pinpoint what keeps your hero from easily getting what she wants.

Happy writing.

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse

and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – Oftentimes, by the end of the story, the protagonist finds out that what she thought she wanted was not really what she wanted at all, and that something else entirely ends up making her happy. Why? Because the newfound thing is what she really wanted all along.

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