Until you try to do something like this, yourself, you have no idea how many and how deep are the changes made to a story before it’s “final.” Here is a list of eight ways my story changed from its original conception until now:
- The novel was going to have a male “everyman” protagonist
- I had the President of the United States as a viewpoint character
- I added a prologue (that’s where the President was)
- I added a “G-man” to the story as a viewpoint character
- Changed the protagonist to the woman instead of my “everyman.”
- Dropped the prologue and eliminated the President as a viewpoint character, deciding these events would best be told in retrospect by the G-man character
- Elevated the G-man character to a main character romantic role in the story and eliminated the everyman altogether
- Brought back the everyman but now he’s not an everyman, he’s elevated to main character and part of love triangle with the woman and the G-man.
As I’ve come across writing advice, I noticed that the collective wisdom about everyman characters was consistently against them. I liked my character because he felt real and realistic to me, so I was in denial.
Plot problems are character problems
But when I kept trying to figure out what my plot problem was, it finally dawned on me I didn’t have a plot problem: I had a character problem. My protagonist was boring and uninteresting. Nobody would care about him. I took him out of the story entirely, and made the woman the protagonist instead. She was already a much more interesting character for many reasons, from her past, the way she looked and dressed, and because of a unique, unidentifiable chronic condition.
But then the boy-meets-girl aspect of the story lacked tension. It would be juicier if there was a second love interest for the protagonist to deal with. Some examples you’d be familiar with would be Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Or Gale, Peeta, and Katniss. Or Luke, Han, and Leia. From Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy (which I loved), you have Quentin, Julia, and Alice.
So I brought back my everyman character, but I found a way to make him much more interesting and vital to the story and he is no longer an everyman. He’s back to being a viewpoint character. What he does and how he operates in the story is very different now from my original conception, but it’s tighter and improved.
This is not to say that all plot problems masquerade as character problems. Not at all. I’m just saying that in this particular story I’m writing, weak characters led to a weak plot and I made efforts to fix it.
Have you ever found your plot changing or improving after you change the characters?