Episode 25

5 Things Great Protagonists Have in Common

In this episode, you'll learn 5 things all great protagonists have in common and what people really mean when they say, “Your book will never sell.”

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Gentle Swim” by Jon Presstone

“Give Me a Reason” by Gushito

“Sunny Mood” by Oleksii Abramovych

“Happy Tropical Pop for Summer Vibes” by LiQWYD

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

It’s time for another episode of Writing Break with America’s Editor. In this episode, you’re having a main character moment and learning 5 things all great protagonists have in common. I also explain what people really mean when they say, “Your book will never sell.” And I tell you about a new reality show called America’s Next Great Author. I am not even kidding.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s grab a drink and settle in at our usual table.

Tomorrow, July 20th , unionized workers at HarperCollins US will hold a one-day strike. The union represents more than 250 employees in several departments, including editorial and design. The union is looking to reach an agreement with HarperCollins for “higher pay, improved family leave benefits, a greater commitment to diversifying staff, and stronger union protection.”

The co-founders of Pitchapalooza are hoping to pitch a reality show aimed at authors. America’s Next Great Author will feature aspiring authors pitching to industry professionals. Six contestants will then move in together for a month-long writer’s retreat. The contestants will have 30 days to work on a project from start to finish. The contestants will also participate in storytelling challenges and mentor sessions. The producers say that they are seeking charismatic authors. What writer isn’t charismatic? I suspect what they really mean is they are looking for contestants who can bring the drama.

Filming for the pilot should begin soon, with the winner of the pilot show receiving $2,500. If the show is picked up, the producers are expecting to be able to offer bigger prizes and publishing opportunities.

One producer said, "Contestants don’t have to be graduates of an elite MFA program that basically guarantees an open door in the book business.”

with Bright Dead Things, her:

And speaking of poets, the 2022 Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held in person this year. Over 120 poets and authors will be at the Washington Convention Center in DC on September 3rd.

For more information about the book festival or any of these stories, check the show notes of this episode.

Before we head to the bookstore, let’s move to The Overthinking Couch and overthink about what people really mean when they say, “Your book will never sell.”

Today’s nugget of overthinking wisdom comes from a conversation with a marketing professional. He clarified that when someone says, “That’ll never sell,” what they really mean is, “I don’t know how to sell it.”

So, when you share your idea for a book, series, or movie with someone and they give you the old “That’ll never sell” rebuff, understand that the truth is that person doesn’t know how to sell it. You could respond with an informed explanation on how to sell it or you can move away from that person and move on to the next.

As for us, we’re moving on to an independent bookstore.

Welcome to Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City, Philippines. This two-story, pet friendly bookstore is owned by two sisters who have given the space a welcoming feel with table lamps, origami, and a rolling ladder. The books are neatly organized on wooden shelves in unique categories, such as ‘imagined worlds’, ‘gateway reading’, and ‘lessons not learned’.

The bookstore hosts live readings, author talks, and art exhibits both inside the shop and in the private backyard surrounded by lush foliage.

Now that we’re here, let’s check out some graphic novels and books by Filipino authors.

editions of Asian works since:

I’m taking this one to the register. How about you pick out a different one, and we can swap when we’re done?

But before we stop to read, take out your notebook and get comfortable on the cushioned bench by the window for the next part in our expedition into the three-act novel.

Two weeks ago we began working our way through the writing process for a three-act novel, so go back and listen to the past two episodes if you missed them.

This week we’re going to start working on your protagonist, also known as your main character, also known as your MC. As you might have noticed, I prefer saying ‘protagonist’.

To start us off, here are five things all great protagonists have in common.

Great protagonists are introduced at the beginning of the story. This might seem obvious to you, but it’s not so obvious to everyone.

Great protagonists have a greater cause. This does not have to come right at the beginning of the story, but it should be fairly soon to keep the reader engaged.

Great protagonists have inner conflicts. In addition to the plot happening outside, protagonists should be conflicted about something within themselves. For example, something is expected of them, but they aren’t sure they can accomplish it.

Great protagonists are complex. This is where many authors struggle. New authors sometimes write characters that always say and do the right things, which is unrealistic. Nobody is perfect, and perfect characters are boring. Great protagonists have strengths and weaknesses.

Great protagonists stay in character. Although you, the writer, might feel a certain way or want to say a certain thing, the protagonist you created might not behave the same way. In fact, if you’ve done a good job creating your characters, they will not agree with you a good deal of the time. Make sure that your character’s dialogue and action is consistent with that character. That’s a good tip for all of your characters. Inevitably, your life will inform some of the plot and the story, but remember that fiction needs to be more dramatic, more exciting, and have a more cohesive theme than real life.

So, those are 5 things all great protagonists have in common. Let’s go further. What about your protagonist will create sympathy in the reader? Is your protagonist in danger? Is your protagonist sacrificing something? What are their virtues? Are they clever? What is it about your protagonist that makes them memorable?

Physical appearance is not a strong tool for creating sympathy, so skip over that for now.

Now decide your protagonist’s flaw or flaws. Do they doubt their abilities or self-worth? Are they insecure, naive, prejudiced, or stubborn, perhaps? Are they unable to face the past or put the past behind them?

Again, physical appearance is not a strong place for finding flaws, so skip over that for now too.

Clarify your protagonist’s goal and what they need to overcome in order to achieve their goal.

Think about your protagonist this week and write a one-paragraph character sketch that includes your protagonist’s name, age, gender, goal, flaw, back story, and physical description.

How much physical description you include in a book in general depends on your genre. A lot of the times, it’s not necessary, and your readers might not want it. So, do a little bit of research on your particular genre before you start giving way too much physical description.

Next week, we’re looking at antagonists. Until then, remember that you deserved this break and that everyone you meet is the main character of their own story.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

About the Podcast

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.