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

 2015 comment: Pay careful attention to this one. I think this is one of the most frequently missed aspects in first drafts and first manuscripts. There has to be a reason for your story. Your character must “Grow”.

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 my main character 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 my MC 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 “chosen one”… 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.

swish swivel sparkle

2015 addendum:  Three years after writing this original post, I am VERY conscious of character change. My stories have both a “plot” arc (The exciting stuff that happens in the story) and a “character arc” (How the characters *all of them* change throughout the story.)

Take a good look at your manuscript. How do your primary and secondary characters change as events of the story unfold? Are they the same person?

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

  1. Working on this very issue – a cosy novel mystery. Hard to make the detective grow and change, but I think you’re right. It has to happen, and it has to be clear to the reader. Hard work. Thanks for the nudge.

    • You know what? In a cozy maybe more than ever a character change can really make your novel stand out! There has to be something about the mystery that has a deep compelling meaning to the MC. Think it over. It is probably staring right at you. 😱😱

  2. I read somewhere (maybe James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, but I’ve read so many craft books now, I can’t be certain) that the last scene in a story should reflect the first scene in some way and the difference in the character’s character should jump out at the reader.
    In my YA fantasy, my female protag starts the story in her plush private room at a boarding school. In the final scene, she exits her stark cell at a monastery. The change in setting directly coincides with her change in priorities, thanks to all that happened during the story.

  3. The big question: Is it a subtle or 180 degree change. Sigh. Thanks for this, Jennifer.

  4. Excellent work. I think that many writers I beta-read for are guilty of letting their protagonist languish in being the same throughout most of the novel only to give them a spike of change at the end. Tweeting this!