Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Send in the Stunt Double

Not long ago I went to see my hair stylist. As she usually does some time over the summer, she said, “Your hair’s too dark. Let’s brighten it up with some blonde highlights.” If this were a movie, I’d probably say, “Cut to two-and-a-half hours later.” I left the salon looking like the double for the albino in The Da Vinci Code. My hair is so blonde it’s practically white. Which got me to thinking, what do I do now? Do I let it grow for a month or so then get it cut really short and have brown highlights put in?

It also got me thinking about the albino in The Da Vinci Code. (If you’re a writer, you should know that’s how the mind of a editor works.) For me, that character is more memorable than any other. Why is that?

The key word there is “memorable.” He’s not bland like the protagonist. Despite his appearance, he has color. He has motivation, purpose, and perseverance. This is true whether you’re talking about the movie or the book. He doesn’t get the screen or page time as much as the protagonist, yet he comes close to over-shadowing him.

That’s one thing (among many) you have to be aware of when you’re writing. Don’t let your secondary characters or your antagonist take over. The antagonist has to be strong, has to be a worthy adversary, for the main character, but if he takes over the spotlight, then the book becomes his.

When you have your readers read your whole manuscript, it’s a good idea to ask, “Which character was most memorable to you?” and “Why?” If the answer is the antagonist or a secondary character, then you need to work on your protagonist.

He should be at least as memorable, if not more.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.


  1. ....Or make your antagonist the main guy.
    Great post Helen. Sorry about your hair.

  2. Thanks, Helen. Thought provoking stuff! I once had an agent comment that she liked my protagonist's brother better than she liked my protagonist. Do you think it's naturally easier to make secondary characters more interesting because you can be more daring with them, because they aren't going to throw your whole plot off by doing something crazy? :) Writing novels is not for cowards!

  3. Thank you Lauri. I'm actually going back today to see what she can do with it.

    Hi Amy. I think you're right. Often, we know our protagonist well before we ever start writing. He's the good guy. We want the readers to like him, to root for him, to live vicariously through him. But the bad guys ... we can make really bad. They can do outrageous things. And the secondary characters can be funny or irreverent or annoying.

    With all those other characters who can do things and say things and think things that our protag can't, we have to work hard to keep the protagonist in the hearts and minds of the readers.

  4. I love the suggestion to ask a CP/Reader who is the most memorable character in my MS.

    I hope your hair turns out okay. I remember once I had orange stripes and I called the L'Oreal hotline for help. They gave me the exact color correction I needed to fix the problem inexpensively.

  5. Wonderful tip, Christine. And before someone says it has nothing to do with writing. Au contraire! Wouldn't you love to have a character accidentally end up with orange strips in her hair?

  6. Another great post. thanks :)

  7. Excellent post, Helen. Made me think of a conversation I had with my daughter-in-law last night about the central character in "The Closer." The writers sure have made her unique and quirky and interesting by going so far off "type." Readers like to be surprised and we can surprise them with central characters as well as secondary.

  8. So true, Maryann. I've heard about The Closer. It sound very interesting. I wish we could get cable where we live!

    Hellllooooo Jon. Thanks for stopping by.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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