For this Author Toolbox Blog Hop post, I’m going to expand on a second reason why submissions are rejected based on an earlier post. For those of you visiting for the first time, this is all based on my experience as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing.
While last month I focused on writing a strong first chapter, this time I’m going to talk about writing active characters. One of the most common things I note in my reader reports on why I’m passing is that the characters didn’t have strong external goals.
Your main character needs an active role in the story. This means they make things happen, and don’t just have things happen to them. When you have your main character thrown from one situation to another and then just record their reaction, you have a reactive character. The problem with this is the reader has to wait for something to happen to the MC to see their reaction. But if the readers don’t know what’s coming, then they don’t know what to look forward to, and this is when they become disinterested (and same with agents/editors).
To make sure the MC has an active role, you need to give them clear and strong external goals. Something they’re consistently working toward. In doing so, the MC is pushing the plot forward, instead of being pushed around by the plot.
Now, does this mean that the MC has to be perfect in working toward that goal? Not at all. Your characters should be taking action and making decisions, but it doesn’t always need to be the right one. They make mistakes. Their plans will fail, and they’ll have to start over. They’ll have to face obstacle after obstacle. There still needs to be conflict. The MC shouldn’t go from point A to point B without at least a bump in the road.
It’s important to ask about every character “What do they want? What do they desperately need to achieve?” There needs to be an answer to this, and it needs to be clear and significant. There should be consequences to the MC not achieving their goal. If the character goals are not clearly defined (or are non-existent) then you run the risk of your work being low-concept.
Briefly put, you want your characters to:
- Have strong/clear external goals.
- Be working toward those goals.
- Take action and make decisions (even if they aren’t always the rights ones).
- Push the plot forward, and not just be pushed around by the plot.
Thanks for reading.
P.S Just a quick note that since Pitch Wars is coming up, I’m offering 10% off MS critiques, and I’ve also put up a Pitch Wars package 🙂