Writers are busy, distracted beasts.
There’s never been a time in my writing career that I’ve had less than three manuscripts going at once. That’s not to say I’m writing them all at the same time—they’re always at different stages, from concept to drafting to editing to publication (for a peek at some of my strategies at each of these different stages, check out My Strategic Author Shoebox). This was true in the very early stages of Woodwalker, back in 2015 when it was just a baby manuscript looking for an agent. That year, I was a park ranger in Yellowstone querying my first book, drafting my second, and plotting my third, when a brand new character popped into my life. Over the past four years, that character has sprouted a whole world and duology around her, with book one, Sunshield, debuting on May 26, 2020.
The Outlaw Road duology has three narrators, but at the heart of the story is a single character, and it’s her alias that gives book one its title. Head below the jump to read about her origins and the story that grew around her, along with her visual development!
It’s not going to be a long blog post this month, because I have precisely five days before I need to be in a car with my husband and all my worldly possessions and heading cross-country to Yellowstone. But being in the thick of several manuscripts at all different stages—one in plotting, one in drafting, and one in editing—I wanted to share some great tips I’ve gathered over the years on jump-starting protagonists. Think of them as icebreakers for authors, only less horrible than real social icebreakers because your characters can't judge you.
So many of my protagonists start out as little more than a suggestion—a role to fill (Mae), a foil to another character (Rou), a catalyst (Celeno). Often, it’s not until I reach the end of the first draft that I understand exactly who that character is and how to achieve their full potential. Sometimes that makes drafting hard, especially when I need a character to make a big decision—by the time I was writing Creatures of Light, I knew, for example, how Mona would react in any given situation. But as I was drafting book 1 of The Outlaw Road, with new characters, I had to do a lot more puzzling. What choices would this character make? How do they handle their problems? How do they react when they fail?
There are lots of great character-building exercises and activities available online and in writers' workshops to help you get to know your protagonist, but I have a few go-to aids that I use when I realize I need to know more about them. Check them out below the jump!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator