Wednesday, April 1, 2020

2020 — April — The Second Major Character

Part 4 of 12 of Job Titles for Story Characters © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Here's a new word for you to ponder— 


What does deuteragonist mean? It's the second most important character in a drama. Which means, we're talking about the story job title for the Second Major Character.

So, who do you think is the second most important character in a story? 

Here's the answer— in order of importance and popularity, the Second Major Character can be the— 

Romantic Interest or the Romantic Lead
Best Friend, Sidekick, Pal, etc.
Mentor, Advisor, Teacher, Sage, etc.
The Fool

Can there be more than one Second major Character in a story? Well, yes, there can be. However, do keep in mind that a story can support only so many characters in order to provide a good read and a worthy plot. So, limits must be set.

And, of course, there are Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint considerations. That's why only one Second Major Character could be in the longest of short stories and the shortest of novels. It's in the lengthy novels (over 80,000 words) that there may be a Second Major Character (often the Romantic Lead) with a POV-Viewpoint or even an additional Second Major Character or two, but who don't have POV-Viewpoint. 

Here's something to note— Pantsers have a tendency to create additional characters when drafting their story because there's a need to reveal information or a plot point. Instead, the Pantser should look for a way to reveal that information or revelation by using the story's dominant (most important) Second Major Character, or The Fool, or The Mentor, etc.

Now, let's look at each classification of Second Major Character— 


Of all the characters in a story, the Romantic Lead is probably the most popular. The Romantic Lead or Romantic Interest is also the most valuable. That's because just about every genre publisher wants a Romantic Lead plot or subplot— or at least a Romantic Interest subplot. Why? Because that enhances the saleability of a story. After all, most readers and book buyers are women. Even once staunchly male genres are being influenced by women readers. But writing a romance subplot or even including a Romantic Lead requires knowing The Romance Journey (similar to the Hero's Journey) and how to incorporate it into a story.


Just because the main character has a best friend (even of the BFF—best friend forever—category) doesn’t mean there’s not going to be some conflict between them. In almost every protagonist-BFF relationship, there ends up being some sort of falling out part-way through the story that causes additional conflict for the main characters. Look at Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It seems like two of the three friends are invariably fighting or arguing about what Harry should or shouldn't do. The only thing that seems to change is which two happen to be getting along at any given moment in the story. 

Believability is also strengthened by the interplay of the Protagonist with their BFF, sidekick, and pals. Even the Antagonist can influence, terrify, or threaten such friends.


In Shakespearean terms, The Fool is a character (usually the court jester) who says the things that the protagonist may not want to hear but needs to hear. 

In The Hero's Journey, often The Trickster archetype provides comic relief— and often points out the Protagonist's all too human follies, hypocrisy, or insincerity. 

Just because The Fool is called “The Fool” doesn’t mean he or she is foolish or stupid. Often The Fool turns out to be the wisest character in the story, sharing pearls of wisdom with the rest of the characters, only no one seems to listen to The Fool. Examples: Haymitch from The Hunger Games trilogy.

One last reminder— 

In these days of the coronavirus and being housebound to keep yourself and others safe, here's a CDC link I found helpful—

Stay safe.

Stay healthy.

We're all in this together.

— Catherine E. McLean

Next Month - May  The Antagonist - The Who

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Sunday, March 1, 2020

2020 - March — The Protagonist's Entourage— the circle of friends and family

Part 3 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved  - Catherine E. McLean 

In a story, the Protagonist will have helpers, that is, other characters will lend the Protagonist a hand in dealing with The Story Problem, be that problem a Who or a What known as The Antagonist.

The Protagonist doesn't live in a vacuum, well they might if it were outer space. For a story to have verisimilitude, that is believability, the story world will be populated with other people. A few, a very few, will interact with the Protagonist and Antagonist.  

Here's a list of characters that might associate with or relate to The Protagonist—  

Friends, men
Friends, women
A Love Interest or The Romantic Lead
A Mentor
A Coach 
Pals (drinking buddies, poker pals, bowling pals) 
Family (parents, siblings, other relatives)
Work associates
Food industry workers (bar tender, waitress, etc.)
Health workers (doctor, nurse, etc.)
Tradesmen (plumber, mechanic, pool man, etc.)
Professionals (law enforcement, banking or financial, veterinarian, etc.)
...and so on.

Now as you can image, some of these may interact with the Antagonist, which can lead to all sorts of calamities for the Protagonist. Of course, the Protagonist will be shocked or angry when he or she finds out.

Some of these entourage characters will have names, and fall into the category of Minor Named Characters and others are Prop People. Neither group will have POV-Viewpoint in the story. More on those two types of characters will be covered in August's blog post.

Now, only a rare few individuals on the entourage list will merit being a Second Major Character and they might have a POV-Viewpoint (but it will be limited). Second Major Characters have specific story job titles and responsibilities. We'll discuss them in April's blog post.  

Lastly, remember a story can host only so many characters so you must avoid a cast of thousands.  

Next Month 
2020 — April —  The Second Major Character
Romantic Lead, Sidekick, Mentor, etc.

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

2020 February - The Protagonist - The Story's Hero or Heroine

Part 2 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved

There can be only ONE Protagonist in a story. This I have stressed time and time again over the years. 

A story is about ONE PERSON'S JOURNEY or quest. A story is about how A Protagonist handles The Story Problem (or the story's overall danger or dilemma). 

Here's the thing— a story's problem should be one that has high stakes and severe consequences if the Protagonist fails to solve that Story Problem.

For a story to resonate well with readers, the Protagonist is the only one who can and must resolve The Story Problem. If anyone else does, then it is not the Protagonist's journey, is it? 

Nor does the Protagonist learn something about themselves, or about conquering their fear worse than death, which is part of The Character Arc and which makes for the most enjoyable stories.

So, does your story have a hero or heroine? 

Actually, the sexual orientation of the Protagonist is what determines the pronouns used. And think about this— not all Protagonists are human. But a "protagonist" is a Protagonist.

Of course, physical and emotional qualities may vary between a male and a female of a species, but a good story's Protagonist likely is to be—

3 dimensional
sexually potent
dramatically driven

In most stories, the Protagonist— 

takes the lead (once they decide to charge forward at The Story Problem, they act and don't quit)

is motivated by idealism (at some point in the story)

does not hesitate unless there is real peril— they'll risk their life, but not others' lives

is larger than life in that they are driven, desperate, neurotic, maybe even a bit wacky or far out (in other words, they have personality, quirks, phobias, etc., like most human beings)

will stand out in a crowd (by their attire, their manner, or their actions and reactions)

will have a special "talent" (certain skills or abilities that can be an asset or a detriment to solving The Story Problem)

is an "outlaw"—one who lives their own life by their own rules

is good at what they do

is wounded, maimed, disgraced, or grieving during the story (all of which are human qualities)

Make no mistake, readers read to vicariously become a story's Protagonist and ride an emotional roller coaster through the adventure of that Protagonist's journey. 

Since the Protagonist is the most important character in a story they will have 60% to 100% of the narrative Point of View and Viewpoint (POV-Viewpoint). For example, if you have a story of 100 pages, a total of 60 pages will feature the Protagonist center stage. 

Which means, the Antagonist, if a human or entity, will get the other 40% or 40 pages. However, in the case of a romance, that 40% gets split, not equally, but unequally. For example, 30% (30 pages) to the Romantic Lead and 10% (10 pages) for the villain-antagonist. Yet the 40% could be split other ways, like 25% (25 pages) and 15% (15 pages).

Great protagonists have grit (guts), wit (mental acuity laced with humor), and inner energy (sex appeal). It behooves a writer to pay close attention to such factors, and that brings me to revealing that the look and sound of the Protagonist's name makes or breaks the "heroic" imagery for the reader.

That's right, everything you need to know about a story's hero or heroine is tied up in their name and how it sounds and looks. The judgement for whether a name is hero-quality is done subconsciously by the writer and, more importantly, the reader. That judgement stems from the positive, negative, or neutral resonance of a name and how the look (spelling, type of letters, sequence of consonants and vowels) of the name links to or triggers primitive, subconscious emotions.

Don't believe me? Look at the following list of names and listen to how they resonate in your mind. Which conjure images or hits an emotional cord of like or dislike? Which of the names would not make an effective hero or heroine? Which would make the best Protagonists? 


****Next month 2020 - March — The Protagonist's Entourage

SPECIAL NOTE: Today, Feb. 1, is the last day to register for MAKE THAT PITCH online course


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 January - Job Titles for Story Characters

A Note from Catherine E. McLean — This is the first Writers Cheat Sheet Blog post of not only the new year but also for a new decade. Each month this year the topic will deal with Job Titles for Story Characters.
     As 2020 begins, I thank all you readers and writers for the past decade of subscribing to this blog - and for striving to learn the art and craft of writing well, but more importantly, striving to tell a story well. 
     I sincerely wish you joys and successes in reaching your 2020 writing goals. Happy New Year!

Part 1 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Have you ever heard someone say a story had "a cast of thousands?" 

What is a "cast of thousands?" It means the story had so many characters that the reader became confused by who was supposed to be the actual hero or heroine of the story. 

It's been said that it takes 1,000 words to introduce a character to a reader. Can you see where that leads? To way too many characters, which leads to a convoluted story line, or one of those "new" characters takes over the story or the story line goes off on a tangent. In the end, the story dead-ends or is unwieldy and nearly impossible to self-edit, let alone edit for publication.

Why does overpopulation of characters occur? It most often happens during the heat of drafting when a writer finds they need a piece of information or a certain plot point or twist revealed. At that point, the writer figures it's easier to just create a new character and keep on writing. Doing so for each instance exponentially increases the number of characters—which is not a good thing.

What can be done to avoid overpopulation? The answer is simple— the writer should stop and think. The writer should ask Who else in the current cast of characters can discover, overhear, or in some way become aware of that particular piece of important information and get that information to the character who most needs it (like the Protagonist or Antagonist)?

Speaking of the Protagonist and Antagonist, you're probably familiar with those two being a story's Major Story Characters. After all, a story is about one character with a problem (that character being the Protagonist). But are you familiar with the Story Job Title Classifications for characters in a story? That hierarchy is:

Major (or Main) Story Characters 
Major Secondary Characters
Named Minor Characters
Prop People

If you're not familiar with the hierarchy,  you're in luck. This year's Writers Cheat Sheet Blog will focus on the various job titles and, more importantly, the job descriptions of said characters.

Knowing precise titles and descriptions helps limit the overpopulation of a story, thereby making for a far more enjoyable and more marketable tale.

Please let your writing group or your fellow writers know about this year's blog focus and stop back next month for a look at the story job title of the most important Major (or Main) Story Character —  The Protagonist. 

*****P.S. In my guidebook for writers, REVISION IS A PROCESS, there is a "Characters Per Story" Cheat Sheet that shows the number of characters the various story lengths can accommodate. If you'd like a copy of that Cheat Sheet, you can purchase it HERE  ($1.00).

**** Next Month — February 2020 — Job Title: The Protagonist, The Story's Hero or Heroine

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

2019 December - Sensory Perceptions

Sensory Perceptions

This is Part 12 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings
 ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Ah, the five basic senses— sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. These are also the basic sensory perceptions needed to help show, not tell, a story.

But what exactly is a sensory perception when it comes to storytelling? 

Technically, a sensory perception is the neurophysiological process of perceiving stimuli and reacting to it. What those big words mean is that people use the various senses to gain a better understanding of the world around them in order to act or react to what's going on. 

Keep in mind that reactions may be positive, negative, neutral, or ignored. For instance— 

A positive sight reaction might be: seeing Christmas cookies and recalling how good your grandmother's or mother's sugar cookies were.

A negative sound reaction might be: hear a diamondback rattle snake's rattle nets terror (and with good reason— because that's a poisonous snake)

A neutral reaction might be: the taste of potatoes or other everyday foods which may not require any reaction. However, if there were jalapenos in said potatoes, there would be a different taste and a far different reaction depending on the heat level.

An ignored sensory perception might be the touch of a breeze that is neither warm nor cold or worthy of a reaction. Yet, the breeze is subtle enough to note the type of day it is or the season of the year.

Each of the above reactions can work in a story, too. 

Look at your draft for setting elements of sound, smell, touch, taste, and sight. Ask: can that element trigger the focal character to recall something important or react like a human being should?  Is the resulting action important to the development of the drama and plot? Doing so is a far better way to show, not tell. 

Now, which of the five sensory perceptions do you think writers chronically overuse? 

If you said "sight," you would be correct. Initial drafts of stories are often "sight-heavy," but those of most novice writers are ponderously sight-heavy, especially with descriptions of the setting or story world. 

Is there a way to check for sight-heaviness or sensory perceptions? Yes, there is. You can check your work by using four differently colored highlighters. For a good look at your sensor usage level, pick ten pages, which is about 3,000 words. Then, one by one, using a different color for each round, go through the pages and mark the words or passages pertaining to sound, smell, touch, and taste. 

But what about the fifth sense—sight? Technically what is left on the page will be what is seen and described or which is dialogue (both spoken and internal). 

When done, what do you see? Do you have huge blocks of "sight?" Do you have a mix of colors? Is one sensory perception missing or rarely used?

Ideally, you would have a mix of perceptions—and a character responding to the various sensory input.

If you do this exercise, leave a comment and let me know what you discovered.


Congratulations to all who participated in and finished NaNoWriMo!

The next step is rewrites and revising but you can make that a far easier task by using this little guidebook 

and when you're ready to market your story, be sure you can pitch it successfully by taking this Feb. 1-29, 2020 online course hosted by Pennwriters — Details are HERE

*********Next month begins a new series for this blog on Job Titles for Story Characters.

Happy Holidays!