University of Iowa

Agency, Struggle, and Transformation of Character in the Novel

Weeklong June 23 to June 28 2019

Agency is the word for a character’s central role in pushing a story forward. Often a first draft traps us in a story with characters who are passive, or who just can’t figure out what to do next. But responsibility for one’s own fate is a big part of making a character sympathetic. How do you develop your protagonist’s agency, especially if your character is in trouble? You build character struggle that comes from obstacles between what is desired and what seems possible. You upset the equilibrium and put good things at risk. Does every novel have to be about a hero? Absolutely not. Characters can fail and still become, just as characters can achieve but discover they have lost their true selves. But all protagonists have to try hard.


In this workshop, we will look at your manuscript draft (or a comprehensive outline) and assess plot points in terms of agency, struggle, and transformation, that is, the role of the protagonist. Our discussions will be intense, lively, and above all, productive. You will write (or revise) and share scenes and summaries that deepen the meaning and function of your protagonist’s journey. You’ll need a solid summary or chapter outline and at least the first couple of chapters. More is better, but the pages don’t have to be perfect, or even “great” at this point. 


In this workshop we will provide feedback on writing you bring from home or produce in our week.