Lesson Twenty-Two from a Manuscript Red Line: Does your Protagonist “Grow Enough?”


In the closing comments of the Gold Mine Manuscript, the Publisher who red-lined it noted that the MC didn’t “Grow enough”.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

They said the main character does not have a struggle in the story that pulls him from one state of being to another.  They thought he was pretty much the same at the end of the novel as he was in the beginning.

I’m not really sure I completely agree about this comment.  I saw little changes in the character throughout the novel.  I suppose the problem was the presentation of the final scene.  The author wound down from a big action scene very well, and in the end, the MC is relaxing and thinking.

I am just guessing here, but maybe the Main Character’s thoughts should have reflected HOW he is changed.  Maybe he should be thinking:  “Wow, I was such a stuck up prude, and the world used to revolve around me, and now I just put my life on the line and fought an army and stood up for myself to protect a whole kingdom!”

Okay, that was really bad, but do you get my meaning?  Again, this is totally a guess, but this publisher is looking for “the change”… What happens to the MC along the journey that makes him or her a better person?  This, again, brings me back to my own novel (and you should be thinking about yours)

Does Magellan change?  Well, yes.

  • He starts out confident,
  • Gets ripped away from his family, get unconfident.
  • He gets the approval of the King, gets confident,
  • He leaves the King’s house, gets picked on all the time, and gets unconfident again
  • Finally, in the end, he steps up to the plate, and proves his worth in the climax.

However—does he think about this in the closing scene?  Well, no, he doesn’t.  But… in the last few lines there is another change that slaps the reader in the face with an “Oh my Gosh!”

My overall change, like in the Gold Mine Manuscript, happens during the climax.  Then there is this little hook after the wind-down in the last paragraph, which could be considered an epiphany.  It includes another change, and then a “no way!”  Is this going to fly in the publisher’s opinion?  Dunno.

I changed my ending a lot in the last year to make sure Magellan changes.  I had him fall in love, I had him not be in love, I had him flat, I dealt with amnesia, I had him accept who he was, I had him outright refuse to be the factotum… yikes what I put this kid though!

Admittedly in the first draft, he really didn’t change at all… at least on the inside.  I didn’t know this was a pre-requisite for story-writing.  Now, I think the change is there.  At least, I THINK THAT’S WHAT I WROTE (Go back and read that post if you don’t remember it)

I hope my stab at an exciting last page didn’t “blow it” but I guess that’s for the publishers to decide.

What about yours?

Jennifer Eaton

10 responses to “Lesson Twenty-Two from a Manuscript Red Line: Does your Protagonist “Grow Enough?”

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. Hi Jennifer
    I’ve nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger Award. Here’s the link http://mywritingnotebook.com/2012/01/05/note-250-the-kreativ-blogger-award/
    Happy New Year!

  3. Marie Gilbert

    Excellent post. My main character does change her way of thinking although it is a slow and painful change, but there is another character which I need to work on.

  4. Brinda Berry

    I don’t know about “reflecting” on change. I think that actions should show the reader how the MC is different from the beginning. I’ve had trouble with character arcs in the past. My lack of character growth prompted a Revise & Resubmit request from my publisher. Therefore, I discussed strategy and revised the MS.

  5. Shelley Szajner

    Excellent & timely post, Jennifer! I’ve been going over my own character arcs and creating a shadow aspect in some of the minor characters as a vehicle that will reveal the protagonist’s own flaws to help her grow. For example, the protagonist is indecisive and wants others to solve her problems (she must to learn to stand on her own two feet). I could show the shadow aspect in the minor character(s) as having them change their minds/plans all the time or not being responsible for their own actions and getting into hot water. Knowing what the character fears is a great help as well. It is through facing this fear, that helps them grow. ONE of my all-time favorite character arcs is in Dickens, the Christmas Carol. The transformation is clearly evident in the protagonist, Scrooge.

  6. This is a tricky one. I think it depends on the genre you write in. There are some very successful novels where the characters stays the same from one book to another. If your novel is more character based than plot based, this probably holds true. Otherwise, maybe not.

  7. Good One, Jennifer! My first two ms did not have strong character arcs. Let me rephrase. My first two ms did not have ANY character arcs. I used to call them “practice” ms. Now, I refer to them as first drafts. They need rewrites based on what I’ve learned about craft.

    I don’t know that the character needs to “reflect” on the change for the reader to “get it.” If the characters’ flaws are evident throughout the ms, and they struggle with those flaws, letting go, learning, growing, a powerful scene near the end will show the readers the magnitude of the change.

    Then, they shut the bedroom door and live happily-ever-after. I write romance. Can you tell?

  8. Excellent post. as always. I am thinking about my characters…..Thanks for sharing all this information, it has been very helpful.

  9. I think you make some valid points. I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately to see how they ‘grow’ the characters by the end of the story. I think I have accomplished this with my re-write, but I won’t know until I send it back out for beta reads, (which hopefully will be very, very soon). One thing I’ve discovered lately is that this writing stuff isn’t as easy at it looks. But I am a good writer and my novel will be published and it will be a best-seller. I have to feel that way or it won’t happen. That’s my New Year’s resolution – to not think negative thoughts. It will happen. And I know Magellan will find his place in people’s homes, too, very, very soon. 🙂

  10. That’s the hardest part–what does your character want and how does he change. I am fighting that battle myself. When I read books I really like, I don’t always see that big “this is what he wants” moment but I like the story. Now I am going to look for the change when I read good books!