Editorial Advice

This week in editorial advice tweets. Questions about POV and MC (main characters; protagonists)

This first question asks about when to introduce the MC. My short answer is above, but here’s a longer discussion because 256 characters is never enough.

Point of view (POV) is the main vehicle for connecting readers to a character because it is the “voice” talking to them, through the dialogue always, but even the narrative in first person and even in close third person the POV character is sharing their inner and outer life in a way that connects readers emotionally to their goals, motivations, and the conflicts they are facing.

Note about omniscient third person: omni third uses the theatrical “narrator” device, introducing the reader to the perspective and attitudes of someone above/outside the plot who knows all, and has distance from the emotions (either because they were not involved, or because they have gained a perspective born of time, so their emotions are different than those going more immediately through the problems). Most writers today are either using first person or close third person, and thus keeping the story connection to the reader intimate, so that’s what I am addressing.

As I stated in the tweet, the MC (main character), also called the PROTAGONIST, is the person whose goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMC) are shaping the plot arc. In the example, the uncovering and pursuit of the person who committed the crime being investigated is the plot. This is ALWAYS true. If you start the story with an inspector driven to seeking out whodunnit, then the inspector IS the protagonist. Anyone they ask for help, to give a second look at evidence, or the crime scene, and offer their advice, is a supporting character (SC). While the SC may join the protagonist in the search, they themselves do not have a separate goal, motivation, or conflict. They are there to support the protagonist’s GMC.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t have more than one protagonist. But each protagonist must have their own separate (and personal) goals, motivations, and conflicts. These can dovetail or contrast with any other protagonist’s GMC, but they will be resolved in separate arcs and impact that protagonist’s inner and outer world. This idea is the focus of the second tweet where I offered advice this week:

Again, since 256 characters just isn’t enough space, I’ll elaborate. Romance has two people with goals (and I’ve stated many times before, unless the trope is arranged/forced marriage, becoming one half of a romantic partnership is NOT the character’s primary goal). The business partners who fall in love during a corporate account sales trip have goals related to that corporate account – desire for a promotion as a result of a successful deal (achievement unlocked trope), or desire for one-upping the other (enemies to lovers trope). So, in reality, falling in love is what happened while the characters were executing other plans. (the saying: “life is what happens when you’re making other plans” is a story writer’s best mantra).

Each character with a goal, motivation to achieve it and conflict/obstacles to achieving it, should be given POV for different scenes and chapters consistently so you can show the reader their progress and setbacks outwardly and inwardly.

The reason why is because during the time they have the POV in the narrative, whether first person or third person close limited, is the only time that you can give specific details about the inner life and inward effects of the plot conflicts on that character’s emotions. While you can show facial expressions and give the reader a guess, the only opportunity to be exact about their feelings and thoughts is when the character has the point of view in the narrative part of a scene.

So for the zombie apocalypse example, the four separate people each has as a specific loss to deal with, and a specific “bone” to pick with zombies (lost a child, had to kill a rampaging formerly beloved spouse, had a formula they thought would be a solution go awry and created more zombies instead – leading to a need for redemption, etc.) When they come together, these characters with their own goals collectively add one other goal: ending the zombie infection for everyone. But their own arcs are going to be sources of individual conflict – the child who needs rescue allows the mourning parent an opportunity to return to parenting, the one who insists they must be alone now after killing their spouse being forced to acknowledge they are falling in love with someone who has now become infected and facing the same dilemma, and the scientist finding another laboratory and abandoned notes that they think they can dovetail their work with this one to find the ultimate solution – and only having one chance to test it – will they fail like they did before, or succeed this time?

So every one of these characters is a protagonist, with dovetailing goals, motivations, and conflicts, and thus they all need, at different points in the story, to be the one telling the story, to be the one given control of the point of view.

~ Lara

If you’re looking for story structural advice, not sure how to fix what’s wrong with your current project, a manuscript evaluation may help. Message me today and let me help you put your best book forward.

Related posts:

  1. Plot your story
  2. What’s word (count) got to do with it? (scene structure)
  3. more about story goals

Published by Lara Zielinsky

I have been writing and publishing for 20 years. I have been an editor of fiction for 15+ years. I am married, live in Florida and work from home full time as an editor.

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