Monday, March 24, 2014


I'm waiting to hear what my new editor thinks of the sequel to Broken But Not Dead, Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. My former editor left the house and now I'm working with someone who doesn't know me. In essence, I'm back in the trenches vying for his attention.

Feeling apprehensive, I read my copy of the entire manuscript last night to see if I had succeeded in creating a strong protagonist. While you may be thinking it's too late, he has the manuscript, I'm thinking, it's never too late.  If I'm wrong and Sally stinks, I'll run down there (700km), sneak into his office and steal my manuscript back!

Lucky for me, when I finished reading Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries last night, I felt the same way I've felt every single time I've read it.  

Wow, I wrote that!

But will my editor be as enthused? Will he find my 60-year-old protagonist a woman of substance?

She lives in a fancy house. 
With a fancy foyer.

Does that mean I've written a whopping good tale?

A winner?

Everyone knows--well, writers do--that to succeed in this crazy business we need to write a book that will knock the socks off our readers.

Our bread and butter is determined on whether our editor agrees.

My pledge to you is this: 
If you pick five of your favourite movies (easier and faster than reading your favourite books) and answer the question, 'What makes the protagonist so appealing? And I don't mean PRETTY,' then apply the answers to your manuscript... you'll be that much closer to getting your book published. I'm assuming you already know how to write, understand the elements of style, and can spin a good tale. You combine all those with an appealing protagonist and you've got a winner. 
I know that sounds too easy, but it's actually hard work. As you watch your movie, ask yourself: How do I feel about the character within the first few moments s/he is on the scene? Why? Ten minutes into the movie? Why? At the half-way point? Why? By the end?
  1. Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) in Dolores Claiborne
  2. Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) In About Schmidt
  3. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) in Forrest Gump 
  4. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca
  5. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien

What do all these characters have in common? Why are they unforgettable? Why do we feel an instant reaction? Why do we wish we'd written their stories?

Here's a few more:
Leon (Jean Reno) in The Professional
Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) in Fargo
Evelyn Greenslade (Dame Judith Dench) in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A good story requires a great character. They don't have to be good or perfect or beautiful. They do need to be extraordinary, while at the same time believable.

You create a character through effort, stamina, sweat and tears. You work hard at rounding them out, attaching intrigued and fascination to their stories... You do that and I promise... your reader will be mesmerized.

After you've finished the fifth draft and have typed THE END, give me ten reasons why I should care about your protagonist. If you can only come up with seven, time to work on the sixth draft, eh?

Joylene Nowell Butler lives in Cluculz Lake, BC with her husband and three cats, Garagee, Marbles, and Shasta. She is the author of mystery thriller Dead Witness, psychological thriller Broken But Not Dead, winner of the 2012 silver medal IPPY Awards, and contributing author of the soon to be released anthology collaboration Break Time.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

They have to be unique and believable at the same time.

Heather Musk said...

Great post, with some useful tips on how to assess your characters.
Thanks muchly for this!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some of those started out as not so likeable. (I know my main character did!)

Pat Hatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Hatt said...

Lol at the creative pee, only a mutt haha

True, have to be original, somewhat, yet people need to be able to relate too

Christine Rains said...

Excellent post. I love your tips. And you're right that movies were easier to think of so quickly.

Robin said...

This sounds like an excellent exercise for notebook writing. List the movie protagonist and then all of the reasons why he/she is so darn appealing. I bet some patterns emerge.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

@Diane, so true, yes.

@Heather, thanks muchly for stopping by.

@Alex, but I bet she was appealing.

@Pat, you got it!

@Christine, thanks!

@Robin, I bet you're right!

S.P. Bowers said...

great suggestions! I'll have to apply them. I think my current WIP has an appealing protag, but I'd like to be able to fix my other story. I still have hopes that someday I'll write it the way it should be written and find a home.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This is probably my #1 concern every time I start a new novel. I worry that I've made my characters appealing and interesting enough. Great post.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good post, Joylene. For me, a compelling character is very important. I'll follow him/her anywhere if I find the hero/ine fascinating.

klahanie said...

How the heck did I get here? Oh yeah, it's the "I Was Seeking Gary" site!

Oh yeah, a good story requires a good character. A character that makes the reader feel like they are involved with the story.

Great to see you here,Joylene.

Kind wishes,

Ann Tagonist!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

@Sara, I'm cheering for you.

@Susan, it's my first worry too. One day I'd like to write a fabulous draft one! LOL

@Joy, I agree. I have to feel something, doesn't matter if I'm torn, as long as I'm hooked.

@Ann--I mean Gary. I love your outfit. Very fitting with the new persona. The colour works well with your skin tones! said...

This is excellent advice. I'm about to start revising/editing my book. I'm the protagonist, so I haven't thought too much about character, except to be authentic. I really appreciate, and will apply, your tips. Thanks, Joylene.


Michelle Wallace said...

Effort, stamina, sweat and tears - that caught my attention. It's a winning combination.
Thanks for the tips Joylene.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

@Robin, best of luck on your revisions. That's my favourite pate, making what I've already written tighter and better. Thanks for visiting.

@Michelle, thanks so much for stopping by. Happy A-Z challenge!

Carol Garvin said...

I'm in the home stretch in our March Madness challenge and I'm struggling to muster enthusiasm for the new WIP. I think it's partly because I'm more invested in the plot than in the characters, and it's showing, so I'm going back to re-read this post a couple more times. Thanks, Joylene!

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Joylene Nowell Butler said...

@Carol, I have all the confidence in your ability. I know your story will be wonderful.

@Jennifer, thanks for stopping by.