How do you plot a novel if you have multiple main characters?
This is very hard to do well. Most novels that seem to have multiple main characters really have one, and the others are just very strong side characters.
However, one example of actual multiple protagonists can be seen in Marian Keyes SUSHI FOR BEGINNERS (reviewed here). This is done well because the three protagonist's lives are all entwined, and each of their decisions effect one another.
One way to make multiple characters work is to give them all a very strong goal that they are all working towards. That's why romances often have dual protagonists. Both are usually working towards a goal of chasing after each other!
If you're new to writing, and want to write in multiple POVs from multiple characters (be it in third or first person), I suggest picking one character who dominates the story, but having multiple side characters who have strong subplots that effect the protagonist, but are still unique enough to be strong characters.
Because the person who posed this question to me is writing a Zombie Apocalypse novel, lets take THE WALKING DEAD (the TV series) as an example.
Multiple very strong characters? Yes.
One Protagonist? Yes. Rick Grimes.
Rick Grimes is the protagonist, but all of the other characters have very strong sub-plots, and if the story changed to focus on one of them, they all have the potential to be the protagonist instead. The reason Rick Grimes is the protagonist, and not the others is that Rick's POV is used most (even if it is only slightly more than the others at times), and because he has taken on a leadership role in the group, the audience is drawn towards him even more. Also, he has the guns.
What are your thoughts on multiple protagonists?
Seeing as it's Valentines Day, a post on writing love scenes to make your readers swoon seemed like a relevant post!
Disclaimer: I am NOT talking about sex scenes in YA. I'm talking about plain ol' two characters falling in love through out a novel, and revealing its progress in scenes.
Characters don't usually fall in love in one scene. It's something that happens over the course of the novel, or often several novels if it's a series. But each "love scene" can build to that moment where the characters do realise that they are in love and as readers we can all have that "awwww" moment and make that silly heart sign with our hands.
So how do you use each scene to show this love-in-progress, and what makes some love scenes so damn swoon-worthy that you need to fan yourself?
Why aren't the characters together already? Usually because of some kind of conflict. It could be something as simple as "I don't know if he even likes me" or as complex as "my family's been at war with hers forever and we can never be together unless we run away".
Conflict is important because it provides an obstacle for the characters to overcome, and in a love scene, an opportunity to fight that obstacle is provided.
Just because it's not a sex scene, doesn't mean the characters aren't thinking about sex. If you haven't been a teen for a while, try think back and be honest with yourself. Male or female, in the presence of a boy or girl you liked, was there really a moment where it didn't cross your mind? No? Seriously? Well you were a boring teen then, weren't you...
Sexual tension often heightens the conflict in the relationship, raising the stakes even more and making a love scene all the more interesting. In YA fiction, this tension is important because it is an integral part of teen relationships. Without it, the scene can fall flat.
It's not a love scene if the character isn't feeling the love, but the other character is. For example, going back to the ball park, the boy showing the girl how to bat could be completely oblivious to it all, but if the girl is narrating, she must be revealing her infatuation through her thoughts and actions. The character who's POV you're in has to be the one falling in love.
A character the reader wants to fall in love with:
To make a love scene truly swoon-worthy, the reader must want to fall in love with one of the characters. Let's just pretend for the purposes of this explanation that the reader in question is female for the moment, and that the scene is from the POV of a girl falling for a boy. The reader must want to fall in love with the boy as much as the girl character wants to. It may help to ask yourself why your girl character is falling for this boy? Is it his looks? His cheeky grin? His bad-ass attitude? Whatever the reason, it needs to be shown in the best light so that the reader can fall for him too.
Now lets pretend that the reader is still female, but the character in POV is a boy, falling for a girl. You can still make your reader want to fall in love with the boy. Love scenes can be used to highlight the POV character's qualities as well. If one of his "awwww" attributes is his rough on the outside, soft on the inside persona, then this scene can be used to show that, and make the reader fall for him as well.
Internal and external dialogue:
Often in a love scene the characters may not say much. When they do speak aloud, make it count. Every word should either heighten the tension, reveal character or move the scene forward. For example, a character saying "I love you." is a useless piece of dialogue, unless it is accompanied by these things.
Internal dialogue can often be used to great effect to show a character's feelings. Too much can get in the way of what's actually happening, but a little scattered into a scene can go a long way in upping the tension.
Actions and reactions:
Actions speak louder than words, and so do reactions. Every move one character makes should make the other character react in some way. And no, it doesn't always have to be a physical reaction! Love scenes are often very emotional, and often the reaction is more important than the characters' actions. They can be hugely revealing for the reader.
That's my thoughts on YA love scenes. What about you? Is there anything else that should be injected into a love scene for maximum swooning effect?
I think nearly every writer does it. It's your novel, your characters and your plot, right? So it should all do what you want. So what if the character you thought was the villain is turning out to be more of a anti-protagonist who's really fun to write. He's supposed to be evil! And as for the FMC. She was supposed to be a delicate creature, so why is she throwing punches at other characters?
Then you have a tantrum, yell at your characters and demand that they do exactly as you say.
Unfortunately, most of the time it's just not going to happen. As we write, characters are infused with a life of their own, and become increasingly separate from our original idea. We can't force a character to do something because the plot demands it. It won't sound authentic and readers will pick up on it.
Sometimes I wonder if thats why so many writers create their best work when they're a little tired. The words flow better when we are not caught up on where they should be going, and we concentrate instead on where they want to go.
When you have a rebellious character that you cannot control, and who is decimating your plot outline, you have a few options:
What about you? Have you had any characters that won't obey?
Writer’s Block NZ
I love picking character names, but must admit that sometimes I spend hours finding the perfect one. If you're like me, you may find it hard to write without having that perfect name for your MC firmly embedded.
Here are the methods I used to name Kalista (Kali) Marcellus, my female MC from Phoenix's Ashes.
Pick a name for its meaning.
"Kali" means "black" and "time". Considering that Kali not only has dark hair and olive skin, but is also obsessed with clocks, the moment I saw those meaning's I knew that I had a name worth keeping.
To search for names by meaning, I used this baby name website. It allows you to put in a keyword (eg "time") and see what names have that word in their meaning.
Pick a name for its origin.
I had a slight issue with the name "Kali". The name is Sanskrit, and Kali comes from Egalia, where everyone has mediterranean sounding names. I solved the problem by using Kali as the name she goes by, but Kalista as her real name. I found the name by pouring through baby books until I found a name that started with Kali. It just so happened that Kalista is Greek, so I didn't have to look very hard! Kalista also means "most beautiful" which I thought was perfect because male MC Azrael would certainly agree with that.
If you want a name from a particular country, then the internet has a ton of websites that can let you search by them, otherwise you can always modify a mane you like to sound more like it's come from a particular country.
Pick a name for its sound.
I liked "Kali" because it was short. She's a very blunt person, and gets straight to the point, so a long flowery name wouldn't suit her. "Azrael" (Az-ray-el) is more rounded and drawn out, which suits his personality better.
"Marcellus" was chosen because it sounded Italian, but also because it contrasts with Kali's short first name. This name might be flowery, but since Kali was stuck to it thanks to her father, who the name does suit, she has to put up with it.
Pick a name based on a person or figure with the same name.
"Kali" is the Hindu Goddess of Death, and Kali is a character who while being inherently good, is surrounded by destruction, much of which she causes, however inadvertently. This was my original reason for wanting to use this name, and the rest just happened to work in well.
Still stuck? Use name generators.
I used a generator to come up with "Marcellus" (actually I used a few generated names and mashed them up to create my own). They can be helpful when you're stuck, and there are a ton of them out there.
I like Seventh Sanctum's name generators. They have fantasy name generators, names by species (cat, elf, etc), names by theme, location... almost anything!
So what about you? Do you go as crazy and in depth as me when picking a name, or do you just open a baby-name book, point to one and go with it?
Writer’s Block NZ
MG = Middle Grade (Intermediate for Kiwis)
YA = Young Adult/teenagers
The age of the readers:
MG readers are approx aged between 8-12. YA readers are approx aged between 12-18. Obviously there are exceptions. I'm 24 and read YA and MG...
The age of the characters:
It's important to note that young readers tend to read UP in age. So a 12 year old will probably read books with 14 year of characters, and a 15 year old will probably read books with 17 year old characters.
MG characters tend to be aged between 8 and 14. YA characters tend to be aged between 15-18
YA novels challenge the reader, and can use almost any word that an adult novel can. The difference, is that the 'voice' of the words are of a teenager, as opposed to an adult. YA novel can be filled with foul language, sex and graphic violence. As long as it's done tastefully of course.
MG novels have a few more vocab restrictions. No swearing (or at least very little and it would have to be essential to the novel), sex or graphic violence. The word choice is also important because while MG novels should encourage a wider vocabulary, it's important not to intimidate, or isolate the young reader from the novel.
The novel's central conflict:
YA novels, are about young adults, facing adult problems for the first time. The conflict in the novel is drawn from this. Adult problems can include grief, revenge, death, love, sex... the list goes on. MG novels, however, tend to focus on broader ideas like fitting in or saving the world.
Internal vs External conflict:
Let's face it: teens are selfish, and that's what drives most YA novels. YA novels are often based on internal conflicts that the characters face, eg falling in love, experimenting with drugs and alcohol or getting revenge on an old boyfriend. Of course there are external conflicts too, but the internal conflicts tend to be stronger. With MG novels it is often the other way around. The characters are thrust into an external conflict and their internal conflicts (while present) take a backseat.
Plot vs Character:
In general, YA novels focus on the character and relationships, while MG novels focus on plot. The reason for this is that YA novels have a higher word count, and more time to peruse the MC's mind. MG novels however have a limited amount of words to get the story across, so they tend to be a lot more action packed.
Speaking of word count, it's important to note that MG and YA novels do have different word count requirements. This is broad, but:
As a general rule, the older your character, the higher the word count!
For more info on the MG genre check out From the Mixed Up Files.
Taking a break from cliches for a moment, I'd like to look at writing from the point of view of a male. For those of you not familiar with "Phoenix's Ashes", it is written from three different first person POVs: Azrael, a 16 year old boy who walks into trouble as much as he breathes, Kali, a feisty 16 year old girl who possibly meets the 'kick-butt girl' cliche, but is a little more sarcastic than sassy, and Phoenix, a nine year old boy who's hiding a big secret.
My issue is that two of those POVs are male. In fact, in terms of word count, half of the book is written from either Azrael or Phoenix's POV. And I'm definitely not a guy. I didn't think much of it at first. I just wrote in their POV because it needed to be done and it felt write. Then someone pointed out that (especially being from 1st person) it is easy to mistake the make POVs for female POVs. Can't have that. I do not want my boys to sound like girls. Even if Azrael is possibly a bit of a wimp deep down (especially compared to Kali), he still needs to sound like a guy, But how can you, as a female, write from a male POV?
I don't think you can. But (I hope) you can edit your writing into a male POV. I think that with a little research, and a bit of help, I should be able to make my male POV, sound more... well... male. Keep in mind, I am not writing for a male audience (specifically). Nevertheless, an authentic male 'tone' is necessary for these chapters. Here are some of the things I've been doing to combat my problem:
Read books from a male 1st person POV.
Think like a male.
Okay, that's probably not going to happen. But, instead of asking, "how would I react to x situation", I'll ask myself, how would my husband/brother/father/guy friend react. Or I'll find some guys and ask them for their opinion.
For example, there's a scene in Phoenix's Ashes, where Azrael's friend, Thomas mocks him behind his back. Azrael overhears and is obviously going to be hurt by this. I would react by stewing on it, but saying nothing. Or maybe I would say something and it would turn into a long and tearful conversation. But that me. Not a sixteen year old boy.
So I found a couple of guys and asked them. The result? Azrael doesn't get upset. He gets even. Thomas is calling Azrael a wimp for being scared of water, so Azrael sets out to prove that Thomas is a bigger scaredy-cat.
Get help from the 'experts'.
I'm not a fan of self help books, but in this case they break down mens thinking patterns into easy to understand points that as a woman, I can attempt to translate through my writing. Here are some (exceptionally stereotypical and sexist) things I've 'discovered' about men:
I'm not sure how I'll go, making my male POV, more 'male'. It's not the kind of thing I'll easily be able to judge. I guess I'll find out when I submit my novel to another round of readers!
I am one of those strange people who have an analytical and ordered mind, but want to apply this creatively - whether it is to a novel, an academic essay or a drawing. Structure is an integral part of essay writing, and I always say to my students that if they can get the structure under their belt, they are half way to a top mark essay. The same goes (in my mind) for writing a novel.
Perhaps the most obvious part of a novel (or short story) that requires structure. Plot in a novel is what drives the story forward and keeps the reader interested. Without a strong structure that deals with a beginning, middle and end in some way (although this can be dealt with differently in the case of a cyclic structure), the reader often feels disjointed throughout the novel. This links in with my previous blog when I mention that the novel must work towards its ending to avoid reader disappointment.
There are several types of plot structure. Regardless of the overall structure, the most effective is generally characters face conflict, they react to that conflict, they face more conflict, react to it, face even more conflict, react to it... you get the picture. The idea is that every scene is filled with some kind of tension (not necessarily physical) that blocks the character from working towards his/her goal.
Part of structure is creating balance. A number of writers do this through their characters without realising. The protagonist and the antagonist is a prime example. You can't have good without the evil, and what better way to create conflict than be creating an antagonist that opposes the protagonist. Without creating a strong antagonist (although this doesn't necessarily have to be a prominent character - think Voldemort), there is not enough balance to create the tension required to drive the plot forward. When this structure of balance is weaved into a novel through its characters, it creates momentum and anticipation for the reader. Of course, there are ways of mixing this structure up. Anti-protagonists are a prime example but even the anti-protagonist has an opposing force, thus retaining the balance.
Some authors think about theme before they start to write if they have a particular message in mind that they want to get across. Most of the time however, themes spawn naturally from plot. Regardless, it is interesting to note that the way these themes are portrayed are often based on structure. For example, and underlying good vs evil theme resonates in a huge number of novels. Once again, it is about balance. While you don't need to specifically set out to address a theme, it can be useful to think about what themes your novel may encompass.
Building your world with rules (even in a fantasy the story needs rules that are applicable to the world) is vital. No matter what time or place the world you create resides within, the world needs to make sense and function within its structure. A story bible can be handy here, where you note all the rules of your world. If the sun is green, that's fine, but the sun needs to always be green, and how your characters see colours needs to be taken into consideration. Careful planning can eliminate those small holes in your world that readers love to point out.
Writing style needs to flow throughout. A disjointed style makes for a disjointed novel. Think about the mood of your novel. There may be an overall mood, and then several differing scales of this throughout. They often ride in waves, flowing into one another. What we don't want is erratic mood swings that don't make sense to the character. Even a story about a manic depressive can have an underlying mood that stabilizes the plot, preventing harsh changes that throw the reader off. The mood should relate directly with the plot, and the structure of both work hand in hand.
Everything in a novel is layered over some sort of structure. Writers just manage to build such a beautiful world around it that you don't notice the foundations beneath. There's more to it than simply a beginning, middle and end, although this is important. Structure flows through the work in paragraphs, chapters, characters, setting... everything.
I used to read books from my favourite authors and wonder how the characters they created seemed so alive. Each one lived and breathed in my head until I finished the last page, closed the book, and put it back on the shelf.
It was a miracle. Or so I thought.
I have discovered the truth. And it's a biggie. The secret to creating life. No scientific degree required. You ready? Here is it:
Put a few words onto paper and the characters will come to life all by themselves. I wanted a female character to be a nasty, manipulative cow, but she decided on her own accord that it wasn't in her nature. She because a ditsy blonde with a tendency to giggle too much. All without my help.
No matter how many times I rewrote her dialogue, or how many different scenes she was in, my girl just wouldn't budge. Eventually I realised that this girl had no reason to be nasty. Without the motivation to guide her actions it wouldn't work. I wrote in another character who had abandonment issues, sidelined my original girl and my story progressed.
It would seem that even though you may have a concrete idea for a character in your mind, other factors shape how they turn out. Writing style, the other characters around them, and often the circumstances you put them in all play a part in creating character that is (usually) more real than you could have ever imagined. Learning to control these elements to create and refine the characters that you want is an art. In the end some kind of conflict has to drive a scene forward and how your characters react to that conflict is what makes them so interesting.
Follow your hand and your heart and leave your brain behind. Your characters will follow.
If they want to.
I'm JJ and I write MG and YA fantasy. For more about me, try here.