Narrative Writing



Without a focal character, you have no story. He brings it into being when, affected by and reacting to external events, he fights back against the danger that threatens him.

               — Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

Students often come to me with their ideas for a story.

"Okay," I say, "tell me about your story." And often I get an answer something like this:

"Well, it's about a girl called Melissa, and she has a bunch of weird experiences, and . . . "

No! That's not a good start, because "a girl called Melissa" tells me nothing about her character, and—believe it or not—it's the character of your protagonist that will make your story interesting, not all those weird experiences that she has.

So I ask the student to back up and tell me more about "Melissa". Is she:

Once we've pinned that down, I'll ask a few more questions, because the truth is that your main character needs at least three things:

    1. full name
    2. character trait
    3. occupation

Full Name

This should be easy. If you can't think of a character name, try this random name generator.

Character Trait

You also need a character trait—an adjective that describes your protagonist's personality or appearance.

If you can't think of a character trait, choose one from this list.


What does your character do for most of the day?

If you're writing about a boy or girl who is about your own age, then they're probably a "teenager" or a "student".

But of course there are countless other possibilities.

Can't think of an occupation? Try using this random job titles generator.

Put It Together

Now put these three things into a single sentence. Here are some examples:

Now it's your turn.

Describe your main character in one sentence.

Write it down on a scratch piece of paper. Save the paper, as you will be adding to this sentence in the next six lessons.

There is no quiz for this lesson.