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Protagonists vs. Heroes from THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass

Monday, March 24, 2014

Excerpts from Chapter 1, “Protagonists vs. Heroes,” in The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass


[T]hink about the people whom you deeply admire. Who are the individuals for whom you would cancel other plans? Who stirs in you awe, respect, humility, and high esteem? Are these regular people, no different than anyone else? They may not be famous but they are in some way exceptional, right? …

To create an immediate bond between reader and protagonist, it is necessary to show your reader a reason to care. Pushing a shopping cart is not a reason to care. Demonstrating a character quality that is inspiring does cause readers to open their hearts.
(quoted from page 10)

Is your protagonist great? In establishing her at the outset, it is important to look not toward what she will do later in the story but the impact she has on others now. Her actions will speak, I have no doubt; but who in your hero’s circle already has respect, feels awe, so that we can feel it too? …

It does not matter whether your intent is to portray someone real or someone heroic. To make either type matter to your readers, you need only find in your real human being what is strong, and in your strong human being what is real. Even greatness can be signaled from the outset.

How do you find the strong or human qualities in your protagonist? What will be most effective to portray? The answer to those questions lies in you, the author. What is forgivably human to you? What stirs you to respect? That is where to start.

Next, when will you show the readers those qualities in your hero? Later on? That’s too late. Too many manuscripts begin at a distance from their protagonists, as if opening with a long shot like in a movie. That’s a shame. Why keep readers at arm’s length?

Novels are unique among art forms in their intimacy. They can take us inside a character’s heart and mind right away. And that’s where your readers want to be. Go there immediately.
(quoted from pages 31–32, emphasis mine)

About the book:
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can’t Forget

We’ve all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?

Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They don’t grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In The Fire in Fiction, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again.

Work Cited:

Maass, Donald. “Protagonists vs. Heroes” in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 9–34. Print.

One Comment
  1. Monday, March 24, 2014 1:00 pm

    The Fire in Fiction is a book I use and suggest to the authors I edit for. I like that it doesn’t just discuss but it gives practical application.


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