Writing Secrets: A character needs ‘oomph’ to power a story

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

We recently advised one of our mentoring programme participants that a protagonist “lacked oomph”.

The character ran away from problems and relied on others to rescue her. I didn’t respect her as a protagonist, which made it difficult for me to follow her story or care about her travails.

Characters should definitely have flaws, we all know that. They might do things we disapprove of. We might not always like the way they act. But they should always have agency.

They need to want things, and they need to act for themselves. An entirely passive character, who suffers and is rescued and looked after by others is simply not interesting.

Even if she starts out passive, a character needs to develop an active side to her – and before we’ve completely lost interest in her.

Kurt Vonnegut gave this piece of writing advice: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

This is just another way of making sure your characters have some energy. Put them through hell and let’s see how they behave.

If they simply cower under their bedcovers, while a partner runs around fixing things, they’re not worthy of a story. Leave them under the bedcovers where they belong, and consider writing a book about their partner instead.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Start your writing day with a little jumping and climbing

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