Novel Writing, Writing Prompts

Freewriting practice: Name your protagonist’s internal villain

In a recent blog post on writing villains, The Write Practice’s Joe Bunting says that in every story, “there is always only one internal villain… whether it is fear, lust for power, or control.” This, of course, got me to thinking about my own protagonist in one of my current works in progress. I decided to do a freewrite on this topic and share it with you.

My freewrite: Who is M’s internal villain?

She just wants to go somewhere and lead an adventure. She doesn’t seem to care where she goes, which allows her to be led by evil people to places that she doesn’t want to be. She is so afraid of being ordinary and being stuck where she is that she jumps at any opportunity to be someplace and someone different.

My protagonist could use a little Katy Perry in her.

One of the problems that I seem to be having with my protagonists in this and with Valley of the Bees is the fact that neither of them seem to have any agency. They both allow themselves to be victims of plot. I can’t decide if this is good or bad. I feel like it’s something that my protagonists need to overcome. But at the same time, I’ve been taught that characters who just allow themselves to be carried along by the plot are the weak superheroes of weak stories. Am I writing weak stories?

Back to M. She KNOWS that Drak is bad news, yet she jumps at the chance to follow him to the capital to go to school. Maybe her internal villain is her tendency to believe that she can handle anything herself, even The Dark Lord. The same thing happens when she meets Bragg. She knows he is bad news. She ignores her instincts about him.

OK, one of the themes that I already knew I wanted to work into this story is that of a young woman who always wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even though her gut is telling her that certain people are bad for her. Learning to trust her instinct. That’s one of the ways in which she will change from the beginning to the end.

I feel like this freewrite is going nowhere. I am not learning anything about my characters so far. There are too many distractions. Just keep writing. What else about her? What other internal villains might she have? Wait, she is supposed to only have one. That’s what the author of that blog post said. What one internal villain could M. have?

She always wants to take the easy way out. When what’s his name tries to get her into bed with him on the riverboat, she pretends to pass out from drinking too much. She can never stand up for herself. That’s the problem. She has no voice. She lets other people speak for her. Just like she lets the guard on the boat drag what’s his name off while she’s pretending to be passed out. She lets him tell the guy off for her. But what would have happened to her if he hadn’t showed up? For all the bad things that do eventually happen to M., there are many other terrible things that could have also happened to her along the way if someone else hadn’t happened to come along at the right time and save her.

What is wrong with this girl that she is always sitting back waiting for someone else to come along and speak for her? Why is she incapable of telling people no? Why is she like this? How did she get this way? And how will she overcome it? She goes around acting like she’s all strong and can take care of herself, but when push comes to shove—cliché, I know—she is completely unable to speak up for herself when someone is doing her wrong. It’s like she NEEDS to have some really bad things happen to her in order for her to finally be pushed to the point where she stands up and speaks up for herself.

It’s like Katy Perry says in that one song, “I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.” M. doesn’t stand for anything real. She just has this idealized view of the world and her place in it, and she thinks she’s going to go off to school and make something of herself without ever taking the time to consider what the world is really like and whether or not it will ever actually allow her to be what she wants to be. She has to learn to stand for something, to stand up for herself, and to speak up for herself before she’ll stop falling for the B.S. that these guys keep offering to her.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I need to keep making bad things happen to M. until she finally reaches her breaking point and snaps back. But seriously, her fiancée just “accidentally” killed her father and then tricked her into rushing into the marriage before breaking the news to her. How is that not bad enough to make her stand up for herself yet?

Why is she so willing to make excuses for him? What is her problem? Just thinking about it is making me angry. Is she going to make my readers angry as well? Is this why my writing is stalled? Because I am so irritated with my protag? What can I do to fix this problem and move forward?

Discussion

What do you think about my issue with my protagonist? Is a character with no agency inherently weak? Have you had similar issues? If so, how did you deal with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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