Character Test 1: Is Your Protagonist Happy?

((Another sneak peek from Character-Building From the Inside Out–plus, video!))

Long time, no update! I’ve been super busy working with Uncommon Universes Press. We just finished a massive business meeting that involved a lot of discussion about interpersonal communication, internal growth, and extrapolating personal goals for communal benefit.

DeathtoStock_Medium5Basically, knowing how you work, what you’re good at, and what you’re NOT good at, so you can use that knowledge to help others and be even more awesome.

This is important in writing as well. Your job is to make your protagonist someone that readers  relate to and want to succeed. A book I’m reading, Novel Shortcuts by Laura Whitcomb, recommends figuring out how your character’s personality traits make your story possible. I would go another step, and say that to a certain extent, your novel needs to highlight your protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses. Your narrative needs to feature what that main character is good at, and then create a story where ultimately, through toils and trials, they get to shine.


I advised a client on a fantasy novel with a protagonist who was strongly driven by their personal feelings and values. One value the character had was to always, always defend family. So all the client had to do was threaten the people the character loved, and they would get into all kinds of trouble (re: conflict and incidents that lead to story). However, at another point in the story, the client suffered massive writer’s block, where her protagonist wouldn’t talk to her. The client had done such a good job of making the character stress out over saving their loved ones that the character just shut down. Their personal feelings were too great to manage. In turn, because the protagonist set the tone for the story, this was a sign that the story itself desperately needed a few scenes of levity and peace between all of the mayhem. When the author ‘gave the character what they wanted’ for a bit, all of the gears started turning again–and as a reader, I was able to relax for a little before the next catastrophe happen.

Moral of the story? Know thy protagonist.

Character Test 1

Note: if you find your protagonist is boring you, or doesn’t seem to push plot, that’s a problem. If you find yourself writing lots of scenes where the main character is stressed out or unhappy, and you can’t picture writing a happy or even moderately neutral scene for them, there’s a chance your main character is 1.) in a story where their strengths aren’t being highlighted and/or 2.) not really the protagonist.

On a personal note, I’m constantly evaluating at my strengths and weaknesses to make sure I’m giving you awesome readers the best of my capabilities. In my day job, I’m a teacher, and over the last seven years I’ve gotten pretty good at talking to people and explaining things verbally. So I’m going audio-visual! If you’re an oral learner or just like watching videos, I’ve embedded one below about this blog post, which is also available on my YouTube Channel (subscribers welcome!). And yes, because I always like thinking up new ideas, the video isn’t a word-for-word repeat; if this blog post didn’t reach your brain, the rephraseology in the video just might!

Also, due to my other duties and a desire to provide superior content, I’m narrowing my blog posts to once a week (twice in the case of World-Building Wonders guest blogs or book reviews). However, I’m always reading fun books and coming up with fresh ideas to inspire people, and all that content has to go somewhere. So, if you want unfiltered sneak peeks/reviews on new books, exclusive content to reshape how you look at writing and world-building, and some random humor, feel free to sign up for my newsletter!

4 thoughts on “Character Test 1: Is Your Protagonist Happy?

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