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  • Writer's pictureVendela Ahlström

10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft Kickass Protagonists by Sacha Black

When I started revising Visions of Ravens I came to a point where I really didn’t like my main character. She felt a bit like a whiny bitch. I did get past that. I think I salvaged it (please, beta readers, tell me if I didn’t) and now I’m on good terms with her. When I first started receiving feedback from my critique partners, even before the revision stage, a lot of them asked me what my main character’s want was. And while I thought I new this, I clearly hadn’t really understood her on a deeper level.

When I started plotting for Project Codex I wanted to nail my main character from the beginning since I want my characters to drive the plot, not the other way round. Having read part of The Anatomy of Prose: 12 Steps to Sensational Sentences by Sacha Black and liking her clear cut advice I decided to get hold of her book 10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft Kickass Protagonists to help me along this protagonist hunting journey.

And I loved it. Black has a very distinctive voice when she writes non-fiction. If you don’t like swearing and blunt language, then this is not for you. I personally don’t mind it, I think it gives the book a bit of character (pun not intended) compared to some of the very dry books out there on the craft of writing.

Her chapters are clearly laid out and easy to follow. Chapters are written in bite size chunks and divided into subtitles which are easy and satisfying to absorb. I will say some subtitles are called things like Pinch of salt, a sprinkle of pepper and leave to boil which doesn’t say a lot about that section’s content. I struggle with this a little bit, simply because, although catchy, it makes it a little hard when I look through my notes, because that subtitle doesn’t tell me of what notes follow it. But I can overlook that.

Speaking about notes. I took a f**k ton of them. I highlighted close to everything, because I just felt like, even if the information wasn’t new to me, it was phrased in a way that gave me ideas or made me have light bulb moments.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this a beginners book on craft, but it’s not an advanced one either. Most of the stuff I knew, or had been told at some point. However, something about how it was laid out and Blacks’s voice and her constant reminder to link back to the theme (the THEME, guys) made me understand this whole character creation business.

This book has been immensely helpful to me. I took so many notes that I will go through and address when I make characters in the future. In hindsight, I probably should have gotten the workbook, but I have enough to play with at the moment. I even used this book to craft four of my side characters and my cast feels so much stronger than my list of characters did for Visions of Ravens when I started writing its first draft.

I was so gripped by how well everything was laid out and how much I took away from such a short book, that I bought Black’s 13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains and 8 Steps to Side Characters: How to Craft Supporting Roles with Intention, Purpose and Power. I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I’m sure they’ll be super useful once I do, and I’ll definitely review them once I’ve read them.

I also highly recommend Black’s podcast The Rebel Author Podcast that always features amazing guests and that always leaves me motivated and excited to keep writing!


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