I’m working on the fourth draft of Book Eight in the Dragon’s Fire Series, The Assassin’s Redemption. Readers are familiar with the protagonist, and they don’t like him.
The key to creating a main character readers will root for is to make him or her relatable, compelling, and preferably likable, but any character who played the villain in an earlier title has several immediate strikes against him when he steps into the role of the hero.
The Assassin’s Redemption takes place in 1587, sixteen years before Myrhiadh’s War (in which my hero was an antagonist.) Joseph Callahan held a dark role in War, and readers know how it ended.
Redemption shows Joseph’s history, which I hinted at in War. My problem was how to make him a relatable/likable hero without compromising his character and turning him into someone readers won’t recognize. He can’t present as a helpless victim of his circumstances, and he must remain true to his character in War, at least enough that readers won’t say, “Now I don’t believe he is the person he was in Book Three.”
I put a lot of thought into how to move Joseph from villain to hero. First, I’m giving him a believable motivation for his actions—one that will make readers say, “Yeah, I might do that, too, under those circumstances.” Second, I’m giving him relatable feelings, flaws, and limitations—he’s a human yearning to succeed in a trying situation. He faces hard choices, and his responses and actions show that inside, he isn’t a monster. Third, I’m showing how the aftermath of 1587 turned him into the person he was in 1603.
Contrary to my usual practice, I rewrote the first 100 pages of Redemption three times before I had finished the first draft of the story. At first, I couldn’t figure out why I was doing that, but the reason finally clicked. I didn’t like Joseph. After all, he was the villain who confronted my favorite heroine! I needed to forgive him, and those three rewrites enabled me to empathize with him. We became friends in a way we never could while writing War.
And knowing what happens in The Assassin’s Redemption will make Joseph’s role in Myrhiadh’s War that much richer for readers.
Get caught up on the series before Book Eight launches!
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