Larger Than Life in Chapter 1

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Give Readers a Larger Than Life Protagonist

In my new novel, I’ve written about a dozen different openings, looking for a voice that works. I’m settling in on one, but the first chapter is still unsteady.

One thing I’m looking at today is how to make the main character, the protagonist, larger-than-life. In Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Donald Maass emphasizes the need for characters who rise above the ordinary and do it right away, in chapter one.

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Maass suggests, for example, that you think of things your protagonist would never ever say, think or do; then find a situation in which they MUST say, think or do that very thing.

Maass says, “What qualifies as larger-than-life action? Winking at a stranger is easy for a flirt; to a shy person it is huge. Taking a swing at someone is no big deal for a boxer; for me, it would be life changing. Whatever it is, it is a surprise. It feels big. It feels outrageous.” (p.31)

Use Placeholders for Zingers

Also, use placeholders for dialogue, description, etc. Mark these clearly as placeholders, so you remember to come back and put in some type of Zinger! Make that bit of your novel memorable in some way.

I like this idea a lot because I don’t think fast on my feet. I’d be terrible at public debates. I can however, with time, think of a great retort. That’s what this is. Thinking of that great way of saying something and adding it later. It’s nice to know that I can write the basics of a novel and go back later to add in the good stuff.

Turn Up the Volume

Another way to say this is to turn up the volume. Or turn it down. In other words, use a range of characterization that provides quiet spots and gloriously large spots. A wide dynamic range. Don’t forget about the quiet spots, they are needed for contrast.


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