This week in the 6 month novel series, we’re going to create our hero. Now, this is one of those “chicken and egg” scenarios. You can come up with a basic plot first, or come up with a hero. One drives the other. If you decide to go with creating a protagonist first, your plot will be determined by his or her character. So don’t give your hero a paralyzing fear of water, then put all the action in the middle of the desert. You want him in deep. Way over his head.
So how do you create a hero? Good question.
I like to start with the past. Why not? You need to establish backstory anyway. May as well start there so you know what your hero’s issues are. Your hero needs to have both a bright moment in his life and a dark moment. He’ll also need what Susie May Warren calls “The Big Lie.” That’s what he believes to be true about himself, but is actually a lie that holds him back.
Let your imagination go to a scene that will not be part of your novel. Something that happened years before.
Maybe your hero, at fourteen, stumbled upon his mother crying over an old photo of a man he didn’t recognize. Hmmm…how would that affect him? Would he start digging into his mother’s past? Maybe the man in the photo has green eyes. Your hero has green eyes. The only one in the family, in fact, with green eyes. He has an older sister, so he jumps to the conclusion that his mother had an affair. That he is only a half brother to his siblings. He feels like a lesser member of the family. He is the reason his parents eventually divorced.
Now, my little scene there may or may not work out. I have no idea where it will lead. But now we have a protagonist with a dark moment and a big lie. In my mind, he is actually the son of his mother’s sister, who died of a drug overdose shortly after his birth. Instead of telling him about his mother’s horrible past, the family decided to let him believe he was one of their natural born children.
Again, that’s just one direction.
Your hero should also have a happy moment. Yes, we have many, but one should stand out as crucial to your character’s development. In our story above, perhaps my young hero had just had his short story read by his English teacher, a woman he admires (and has a slight crush on). She suggested he send it off to a contest. He’s elated. His life has meaning!
Now, if you really want to bring it home, put those two moments close together (this is just me, I’m big on going from a high to a low). Have him come home from that meeting with his teacher to find his mother crying. He goes from feeling like he as a purpose to feeling like he’s unworthy.
Come up with your own scenario. I’ll wait.
Got it? Now think about how you can build a plot around that. What can I do with my now-grown hero, who forgot his writing dream and doesn’t know he has a mother out there somewhere. My mind is reeling with possibilities!