Novel Problems

My WIP is in trouble, and it’s all because of my protagonist.

The story, as originally conceived, alternates POV between the two main characters. I’ve written about 20K words with those two characters, and while it was going pretty well, I was having some trouble with one of my protags. He seemed to be kind of a non-entity. I had no clear idea of his personality, and my attempts to give him some character were awkward and forced. (This is the same problem that I had with the beginning of my finished novel, but fortunately I got to kill that character off and find a new one about 1/3 of the way through the book.) This was making it hard to write, particularly the chapters where he was the only one onscreen.

Then a thirteen-year-old girl dropped out of the rafters and tried to kill my other, non-problematic protag. This was completely unexpected. It was also much more interesting. A young girl who takes on full-grown men that are trying to massacre her family? Now that is a character I could write. After a bit of hesitation, I began plotting out how I would weave the story around her, and leave my original protag mostly out of it.

I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to do, but I am still flummoxed by what to do with the 20K words that already exist. My rule when writing a novel is “no rewriting until the first draft is done”–otherwise the first draft will never get done, as I’ll be constantly tinkering with the first ten chapters or so. But I think I may have to tinker with the draft anyway, since I don’t think I can write any further without knowing what happened to my new protag so far.

I’ve never been a 13-year-old girl, so it might be hard to write her. And if my protag is a teenager, does that mean my work is YA?


  1. >>And if my protag is a teenager, does that mean my work is YA?

    I’d say no. If your story is specifically focused on the teenager coming of age, then maybe. But look at George RR Martin. He’s got young characters, and he’s definitely not YA.

  2. True. Part of the problem is that the story will focus on an important decision that the protag makes when she’s thrust into an adult role. So there is some coming-of-age-ness about it. We’ll see how it turns out.

  3. I don’t think having a young protag automatically puts you in YA territory. I don’t know if there’s a definition of YA, but it seems to me there have to be several elements. One of the most important is, are they your primary audience? Who are you writing the book for? If it’s for kids, then you’ll have lots of stuff in there that kids relate to, and want to read about.

    Now, when I was a YA, I was reading Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke and Herbert… I was way past the Nancy Drew stage by then. And if they wrote SF for teenagers in those days, I didn’t know about it.

    About those 20K words: When I first started writing Dunallon, I wrote about 10,000 words before some significant research material came in. And I realized that the Tom Andrews I was writing about was NOT the person he really was. So I put all the words in a folder labled “WTF Some other book”, and you know what? Those words became the basis for “Way of the Land”.

    Because they were just sitting there, and I liked those words. I liked the character. He deserved his own book, too.

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