Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BREAKOUT Notes - Part 3

For those of you just joining us, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of my notes from the The Breakout Novel Intensive V2.0 put on by Free Expressions and literary agent Donald Maass. Now, on to Part 3 . . .

There are basically three kinds of protagonists - The Everyman/Everywoman, The Genuine Hero/Heroine, and The Dark Protagonist.

The Everyman/Everywoman is ordinary, likable, principled. Watch that this protagonist is not boring or too identifiable. Make this protagonist like the people you care about - what makes them strong, kind, caring?

The Genuine Hero/Heroine is someone who already does heroic things, like a Navy Seal, a police officer, a firefighter, a superhero etc. Watch that this protagonist is not stereotypical. Show how he or she is ordinary and human like everyone else.

The Dark Protagonist is the outsider, a self-loather, tragic, sometimes non-human. Watch that this protagonist is not too whiny. Show he or she as someone who longs for change, who wants to change, who still has hope.

Your protagonist can be a mix, like a "dark everyman" kind of thing. But no matter what type of protagonist yours is, make sure you show the reader within the first five pages.  

As I mentioned in Part 2, Maass has us ask questions to find the depths of our stories and characters. Here's some of what he brought up regarding antagonists:

What's the worst thing the antagonist does in the story? 
What is the antagonist's goal? 
What are some things the antagonist can do to get in the protagonist's way?
What is the protagonist's weak spot and how can the antagonist exploit it?
What is one way the antagonist is just like me? Where in the story can I show it? 

Just so you know, Maass and his books and the conference are way better than my choppy summaries. I do hope though, that this series of posts gave you a taste of what's offered in the books and at the conference. It's an investment of time and money, yes, but it's also an investment in ourselves and in our writing careers.


  1. I'm kind of drawn towards the dark in protagonists, for some reason. But not necessarily self-loathing - it can be interesting if they think they are doing good things and everyone else is wrong... Hope I didn't miss the point! Show the reader within the first 5 pages - that's great advice. Hopefully it'll be on the first page!

  2. Cool posts. And wow, Donald Maass! I've been working my way through Writing the Breakout Novel. Brilliant stuff - one of those books that breaks things down to simple terms, but there's a wealth of understanding behind it. So glad you got to go to the conference and that you got so much out of it.

  3. Nick - it's funny, because if you think about it, to the antagonist, it's really his or her own story. It's not about the protagonist at all. :)

    Elizabeth - I'm glad you enjoyed the posts. His books really speak to me, too. Check out his new one, WRITING 21ST CENTURY FICTION, available next week.

  4. I think my protagonist was a Dark Hero. Really didn't have an antagonists until I wrote my third book though. Everyone annoys the protagonist, so one wasn't needed!

  5. Alex - I like the idea of a "dark hero." I wonder if he then would be an "anti hero" type? I love how there are so many ways to go with stories and characters! :)

  6. thanks for this snapshot! i checked off things i ha ve & what needs work!

  7. Tara - you're welcome! It's always good when you see that you already have things that work, isn't it? :)