Posts Tagged ‘What does your Protagonist want?’

Coach Teresa, what does it mean when an agent says my story is episodic?

Authors of novels, memoirs, children’s novels–this advice is for you.

Episodic = This happens, then this happens, then that happens… An episodic story is not compelling because there’s no connection between character growth and action plotline.

The answer: Show the transformation of your protagonist(s) . . . not because “things happen to her/him” but because her/his choices/behavior lead her/him to the next step, to the next step, as she/he goes after what she/he wants.

Examine every scene. Ask yourself this question: What does your protagonist want in this scene?  What is she/he afraid of?  Who/What is the antagonist in this scene?

As Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson says:  “When the dramatic action changes the character at depth over time, the story becomes thematically significant.”

Re-read your favorite book that has a similar premise as yours.

Cheering for writers!
Coach Teresa says: “Reach out, not stress out, when pursuing your dreams!”

Want to attract agents  & publishers?  Want to be your own publisher?

Email:  writingcoachTeresa    at

Coach Teresa  LeYung-Ryan

specializes in:   novels   / children’s novels  / memoirs


September 5, 2011

Dear Lynn Henriksen,

I miss my mom so so much. Your inviting me to guest-blog is a huge gift and I thank you. Today is Labor Day. I salute you, your mom, my mom, and all moms who labor/labored with love and hope for their families.



“What Does Your Protagonist Want?”

By  Teresa LeYung-Ryan, aka “Writing Career Coach & Manuscript Consultant Teresa”

“If you’re writing a novel or memoir, what does your protagonist want?”
“What are your themes and who are your archetypes?”
“If you’re writing a how-to book, what are the issues?”
“Do you want to build your platform to attract agents, publishers, and fans/readers?”

These are the questions I ask when writers hire me as their coach.

For many writers, the first question (“What does your protagonist want?”) is not an easy one to answer. What does your main character want when the story opens? As the story moves forward?

For memoir authors, the protagonist is the Self. You the author lived your story and you know the outcome; now is the chance to engage readers via story-telling techniques and show them what you wanted and how you went about getting (or not getting) what you wanted.

For novel authors, oftentimes the protagonist (or another major character) is modeled after the author; what the protagonist wants is also oftentimes a recurring theme for the author.

In the opening scene of Love Made of Heart (my autobiographical novel about an adult-daughter struggling to understand her mother’s mental illness ), protagonist Ruby Lin asks herself: What have I done? (as she watches police officers escort her mother from her apartment).

Ruby wants her mother to get well; she wants to return to her routines; she wants to forget her past; she wants a wise elder who listens and doesn’t judge. As we get to know Ruby, we find out what her “big wants” are—to find love and forgiveness.

I, Teresa LeYung-Ryan, author of the novel, did not have a maternal grandmother. How I used to fantasize about a kind and wise Grandmama to run to! Writing fiction gave me the luxury to give my protagonist something I never had, so, I created the elderly neighbor Mrs. Nussbaum (embodying the mentor and ally archetypes); she would listen to Ruby and not judge her.

In the introduction of Lynn Scott’s memoir A Joyful Encounter: My Mother, My Alzheimer Clients, and Me, the author reveals: I needed money. I was sixty-seven and living thinly on Social Security… As we read on, we meet the other characters/archetypes and see how they help the author get the “big want” (what money can’t buy) . . .  a spiritual journey to her mother’s love.  Lynn Henriksen’s review of this same book ends with “… Scott’s book made me laugh, cry, and wish I could have my mother back for just a day, even one more hour.”

Aah, to have Mom back for just a day, even one more hour. That is exactly what yours truly wants right now.  I’ve been ill (coping with symptoms from wheat-intolerance) and I yearn for my mom’s hugs and encouraging words: “All will be fine, my darling daughter.” But, I can’t get what I want on a physical level; Mom died over ten years ago of metastasized breast cancer.

My biggest angel is my mom, and, I ask her to help me on a daily basis. “Mom, I want to feel well.”  My muscles and sinuses were hurting; fatigue overwhelmed me; then, when depression moved in . . . I knew that I needed to be an active protagonist. I stopped eating breads and anything made with wheat flour (and that include flaky pie crusts, almond tea cakes, Challah, tortilla that hold a burrito together, Pad Thai, and pasta).

My mastermind colleague Lori Noack reminded me that wheat is in soy sauce (gosh I eat a lot of Chinese food too) and in marinades and salad dressings (yikes).  LN, thank you for your encouraging emails!

Next, I went to see a Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner. Heather Richmond said “Teresa, the foods you’ve been eating are ‘damp.’ To treat the ‘dampness’ so that you’ll feel better, not only am I advising eliminating wheat from your diet, I’m also recommending eliminating soy as in tofu and corn.” No tofu and corn, in addition to no wheat?  Oh my.  Heather had explained that wheat, soy and corn are the top three most genetically-modified foods in this country.

Mrs. Nussbaum’s voice (my inner Wise Self) stepped into my head.  “Making a lifestyle change calls for perseverance. Go easy. Go gentle.  I’m proud of you.”

I tell my clients “Reach out, not stress out, when pursuing your dreams.” I too have been reaching out—by telling my friends about what I want—to feel energetic again. I will need their moral support (to cheer for me when I turn down a slice of bread, a fresh croissant or homemade pizza crust).

At a meeting, Linda Joy Myers, author of 3 books and founder of National Association of Memoir Writers, gave me delicious rice crackers, wild salmon, and green beans when she found out about my wheat intolerance. Thank you, LJM!

Thank you to all my friends and family members who are supportive of my goals!  My sister sent me a gift card for shopping sprees in “organic produce” aisles.  Thank you, Maria!

These books continue to be helpful as I want to live well in spite of food allergies:

  • Eating Gluten Free: Delicious Recipes and Essential Advice for Living Well Without Wheat and Other Problematic Grains by Shreve Stockton
  • Optimal Healing: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Patricia Tsang, M.D.

Heather Richmond is recommending I stop eating rice in the next phase of treatment.  Oh oh . . .

I still want hugs from my mom.  I feel them.  Every morning and every night, in my prayers.  And I give hugs back. “Thank you my Main Angel.”

Lynn Henriksen aka The Story Woman, thank you so much for asking me to guest-blog. You’ve given me a lovely gift—a chance to talk about my mom, knowing what the protagonist wants, and how to reach out not stress out!  I cheer for you, your books, blog, and classes!


Teresa LeYung-Ryan

Author, Writing Career Coach, Manuscript Consultant.

Teresa’s blog for resources.

Teresa uses Love Made of Heart to inspire adult children of mentally ill parents to speak openly about the stigmas and find resources for their families. (the novel is available in libraries, archived in the San Francisco History Center, and used by teachers in college and universities).

She’s also the author of Build Your Writer’s Platform & Fanbase In 22 Days: Attract Agents, Editors, Publishers, Readers, and Media Attention NOW (a workbook to help writers of all genres gain a competitive edge before and after publication. Available as ebook too! Customers of the workbook are saying that it’s useful for anyone who has anything to promote.)

Coach Teresa LeYung-Ryan says: "Reach out, not stress out, when pursuing your dreams."


Lynn Henriksen wrote: “Teresa – it was my pleasure placing your guest post on The Story Woman blog! Thank you for an interesting piece and for speaking from your heart as you always do.”

Kate Farrell, Wisdom Has a Voice wrote: “Teresa–What a great post that speaks to how writers think, yearn, and write for themselves, to connect and to share in a way that makes the world a community!”

Coach Teresa, Does the Hero/Protagonist Always Want to Go Home?

In a classic tale, yes, the Hero wants to go home. Home represents familiarity, perhaps where loved ones are, perhaps safety. Warriors want to go  home; sailors want to go home; children want to go home.

But, what if Home doesn’t provide any of those comforts?

What about homeless people?  Where/What is home for these folks?

As a writing coach/manuscript consultant, I ask my clients this question: What does your Protagonist want?  You have to show me within the first five pages (if you’re writing a book) what he/she wants.  If you can show the initial “want” on page 1, that’s even better.

In The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which characters want to go home? Who wants to go home, real bad.

August 8, 2011

Tonight, I was among thousands of protagonists in the San Francisco Bay Area who wanted to go home.  We were having a terrible time getting what we wanted, not because of a natural disaster or an accident.

I had gone into San Francisco to attend a wake. Oh I had the evening all plotted out. 1. Get to the mortuary by 5:00pm; sit in the back of the room and honor my friend’s father; give my friend a token of my prayers; have quiet time with my biggest angel-my mom.  2. Have dinner with my ex-sister-in-law.  3. Be on BART by 8:00pm, home by 9:00.

8:00pm came.  I was sad for my friend and her siblings; I was sad for my ex-sister-in-law. I wanted to go home.

On the BART platform, the digital signs weren’t showing the schedules.  A male voice from the P/A system announced: “Due to a problem with the central computer system, all trains are on hold at stations. We apologize for delays.”

I thought . . .  Oh well, I have a great book (I’m reading The Poisonwood Bible). They’ll fix their computer system, we’ll all be home late, but we’ll get there.  I am so tired, I just want to go home.

Every couple of minutes, the message about their computer system was repeated. Half an hour had passed.

I drank water with my dinner. I’m sure glad I’m not on a train.

Then, a thought crossed my mind–what if they can’t fix the system tonight?  And the people who are sitting/standing inside trains, stuck between stations–what would happen to them?

I talked to two other patrons.  “Maybe they’ll have maps and more information upstairs,” I said.  I left the platform and headed for the escalators to find a station agent. About thirty fellow BART patrons were doing the same thing.

There was no agent on duty.  I want to go home!


Teresa LeYung-Ryan says: “Reach out, not stress out, when pursuing your dreams!”

Coach Teresa’s YouTube Channel:

Coach Teresa is the author of Build Your Writer’s Platform & Fanbase In 22 Days and Love Made of Heart.


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