Understanding Protagonist Understanding Writer

Ms. K, My English teacher in Israel, used to tell me that whenever I have a problem crafting a sentence in English it is because, to begin with, I have no idea what I want to say in Hebrew. She taught me how important it is to clarify my thoughts in my mother tongue first, so I will be able to translate them to a foreign language.

My English teacher’s lesson still follows me in my writing work. Whenever I struggle with the development of one of my protagonists I know that first I need to understand ‘my mother tongue’- my feelings - before I do the ‘translation’ to fiction. Whether writers admit it or not – our protagonists are the projection of certain parts of ourselves.  They are our alter ego.  When we feel stuck with our fictitious hero/heroine it can be very much due to the fact that we hit a spot about ourselves that we don’t understand yet.

My screen-writing teacher Mark Handley used to tell us in class: “problems are opportunities”. He referred to those moments in writing when we feel that the story is stuck or not flowing well. He encouraged us to look at those incidents as opportunities to make the story better.  I would say that a problem with your protagonists is an opportunity for you as a writer to become a better person. When a writer doesn’t understand her protagonists it means that she touched a spot within herself that she doesn’t understand or hasn’t solved yet. This is an opportunity to leave the heroine for a moment and go inwardly and ask yourself questions such as “What does the struggle of my heroine mean to me?” or “This difficulty in my story – what does it remind me of in my life?” and “If I were my heroine – what would I need to change in myself in order to move my story forward?”

Writing a story is a very personal journey, even if the story has nothing to do with you. There are still elements of the writer’s psyche that come to play in the story. Each writer tells a story that no one else can tell. To be able to understand her story and characters better a writer needs to be in tune with herself, with who she is. She needs to know how to tell her story in her own internal-mother-tongue before she can translate it to another language – fiction.


  1. Very thought provoking post, Anat. Thank you.

    Continue to read Goddesses in Everywoman. Started reading The Heroine's Journey thinking it was the feminine version of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. While it is not quite what I was hoping for in that regard, I think it will be an excellent complement to Goddesses in Everywoman.

  2. Thank you. It was something you said in class three weeks ego that ignited the idea to write this article.

    Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey is a writing guide. Vogler uses the structure of different mythologies as the foundation to his theory of a structure of a story. The book is an adaptation for writers from Joseph Campbell' The Hero's Journey

    Jean Shinoda Bolen's Goddess in Everywoman is a Jungian psychology book that uses characters from the Greek mythology to analyze archetypes of women today.

    Maureen Murdock's The Heroine's Journey is a Jungian psychology book that examines the emotional development of a woman based on her relationships with her mother. This book can give you many insights if you want to write a story about coming of age and mother-daughters relationships.

    For writing romance - I think the first two are more relevant and also "God in Everyman" (also by Bolen) if you want to understand the different archetypes of men.


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