Protagonist v. Main Character v. Antagonist


A bumble bee, cousin to my characters, hard at work


Protagonist v. Main Character

I’m struggling with characters in my story and their jobs. I think I have one main character and one protagonist. But I was thrilled to find this post from elements of cinema that provides great examples of stories where the main character isn’t always the protagonist, or the protagonist isn’t clear until deep into the story, or even complex stories with an ensemble cast  each going through their own struggle.

I’m working on my bee story and I want my protagonist, the one who chooses, to be my queen been.

I loved finding this post online outlining the differences between MC and Protagonist. The post author says that the main character of The Great Gatsby  is the narrator, Nick (who isn’t even mentioned in the Amazon review!!!!) while the protagonist is of course, Gatsby.

What is the job of the main character? Is just it the narrator? Not exactly. According to another writing blog I found, the main character is the one through which the reader experiences the story. The protagonist is pursuing the story goal.

So with that distinction clarified, I have decided I want my main character to be a worker bee, one who has the job of Forager. She can do tasks that set my protagonist up for the choice that is essential to the story. My main character will also have a choice or two.

Ensemble Cast

I love the idea of an ensemble cast. I’m not looking to create anything as epic as Game of Thrones, but I think I could possibly produce something approaching the Breakfast Club, where the different honeybees come together to save their Hive, which is sort of a character on its own.

Antagonist or Villain

Now I have a problem when it comes to antagonist. I had several problems facing my sweet sister honeybees:

  1. Winter
  2. Food source disappearing
  3. A strange new kind of bee that is out to destroying them

But I didn’t actually develop a character as antagonist. I have nameless foes. I have internal conflict and external conflict, but no villain. I’m thinking I need one.

I found this site gives three good elements: vulnerability, believability and invincibility.

Part of me is thinking a drone might make a good villain. A drone would want the natural order of the hive disrupted. A drone is born only to mate with the queen and then lives off the food produced by the workers and then kicked out to die as winter arrives. A drone who likes the sweet life might not want to be kicked out to die as winter arrives. He might look for a queen who is willing to change the way she lives so that he can live his lazy, luxurious life a little longer. He might feed her desire to make her own decisions. I think he could be a good tempter who tries to entice her to give in to her selfishness…which would lead to the end of the Hive. Ok, I think I have my villain.

For more lists about villains, here are five elements. I like intelligent.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Is the Problem Bad Reading or Bad Writing?

reader symbol bad writing or bad reading

Is this innocent reader to blame?

Let’s say you’re reading a book and the author makes a reference to something and you just don’t get it. It could be a phrase, a symbol, a name. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense to you. Some readers might feel confused and give the book a bad review. Some readers might just skip over parts they don’t get, finish the book or story, and go on with their lives. Some intrepid readers might do a little research online to try and understand what they read. I think the worst scenario is the reader who doesn’t even know they didn’t get some understand some reference, finishes the story and says, “huh? didn’t make sense” and then leaves a bad review.

Is the problem bad writing or bad reading? Is it the writer’s fault? When is it the reader’s fault?

Binge Watching

I’ve been watching a lot of The Good Wife lately. Yes, I’ve been binge watching. But this is a darn good show. First, I love the focus on female characters. Second, the story line is strong and compelling. Third, it also explores a lot of psychology and motivation of people. Many episodes also explore the concept of blame and responsibility.

(See, binge watching can be good for writers!)

I think it would be really cool to have a courtroom style drama to explore whether bad writing or bad reading is to blame when certain parts of a story are not understood.

“You Honor, the book didn’t make any sense. No writer can expect a reader to understand the phrase Plumtree’s potted meat.”

“Objection, your honor! Any well-read reader knows that a home without is incomplete!”

[the above is excerpted from my not-yet-written one-act stage play in which James Joyce is charged with obstruction of instruction.]

Yes, I’ve been reading Ulysses and learning a massive amount from his densely symbolic writing. Let me just say it’s been quite an education. But seriously, Ulysses is an excellent example.

I don’t have the grounding in the daily life of early twentieth century Dublin to get all of his references, just as much as I didn’t get all of the references in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland or those short stories by David Foster Wallace.

Is it really Joyce’s fault if I don’t quite get all of the things he has to say in his really excellent, moving, comical, intellectual, insightful story?

Is it bad writing or bad reading? I think in Joyce’s case, it’s not bad writing.

The condom and the burka

(Here we come to another interesting question. Do symbols really have meaning once they leave the hands of the writer? Once a writer puts a symbol in the story, they are leaving the symbol open to the interpretation of the reader. As a reader, I can imbue those symbols with something that matters to me and that something could be quite different from what the writer intended. I did this recently at my critique group where I applied a much deeper meaning to a condom and a burka than my fellow writer had intended. This is a longer discussion.)

pyramid reader symbol bad writing or bad writing

Fraught with symbolism

Bad Writing or Bad Reading?

But back to the main question. Let’s say it’s important to the story, When is a failure to understand a reference a problem with the reader’s background, or with the writer’s writing?

At a recent critique group, we faced a problem I often hear when reading someone’s work and we have the chance to question the author.

I used the name “Selene” as the name a Moon base, used the phrase “star sailor” to describe a Greek astronaut, and had a character make a claim to another character that “we are all made out of stars.”

More than one person didn’t get my references and suggested I take them out of the story. But my story is about a child celebrating Christmas in his home on the Moon. Is it my fault as a writer that they didn’t get my carefully chosen words and phrases? And if it is writer error, how can I address that?

This story about Christmas on the Moon is intended for kids and it’s meant to be a short story. I have word limits, and I think adding in things like “the moon base was named Selene because that’s the name of the Roman moon goddess and NASA has a history of naming their space projects after mythological deities” is a bit awkward for story flow.

How else do readers figure out symbols and meanings when they aren’t in English Literature classes writing papers? Maybe they won’t get it. But if they don’t get it, then they might not enjoy my story as much. But is that my problem? It could be, if it gets bad reviews or if people feel I’m a terrible writer because of it.

Maybe it’s question of finding the right audience. But wow does that feel like a gamble.

(P.S. – I just asked my husband about this and he said, “it’s your fault.” Then he said, “know your audience!”)

(P.P.S. – Then he just made a huge claim that not every symbol needs to be gotten! Then I countered that it feels so disheartening to think people would read my story and miss out on some of my favorite little symbols. And he said, “Some will, some won’t. Those that do get it will enjoy a happy accident, a little serendipity.” So I said, “it’s not serendipity when I put it there on purpose.” And he said, “touche.”)

Now what do you say?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Planning for NaNoWriMo 2015

So a year ago I put out a tweet asking people what story I should work on for NaNoWriMo 2014. I got more votes on the second project and have put the first project aside for awhile (but it’s still in the back of my head).


2014 NaNoWrIMo Ideas

For this year, instead of waiting until the last minute to write a novel off of the top of my head, I decided on my NaNoWriMo project well before November 1. And I started getting to work on the backstory! My planned project was going to be about two young lovers in Pittsburgh during the Civil War who both want enslaved people to be free and to keep their country whole. But they believe there are different ways of doing this. So are a part of my planning, I started sketching out scenes. I named characters. I described my characters. I ordered books about Civil War era Pittsburgh from the library. I went to the History Center and located original documents and learned how to access records of newspapers from the time period!

WHEW did I plan.

Then I spent October 18-21 at the Highlights Foundation learning how to write page-turning non-fiction for middle grade readers. While it was only a few days, when you’re in a small group workshop all day, for all meals, you learn a lot about people. And the instructor of the workshop, the wonderful Deborah Hopkinson, took the time to listen to my idea for my NaNoWriMo project. She pointed out some flaws and asked good, hard questions. I’m interested in writing a book during NaNoWriMo, but I’m also interested in writing publishable, marketable books. Then she asked me a very important question: why wasn’t I writing a book about running?

I admitted that I felt it would be self-indulgent and selfish. I worried it wouldn’t be marketable. I worried I couldn’t write it in a way that shared how important running has been to me as a woman and writer. She pushed me a little more and we discussed a possible character and the story arc. I felt overwhelmed and emotional. I felt exhilarated. I left the Barn (where we had our classes and meals) and I walked to this spot on the trail and I cried a little, overwhelmed at the idea that I could write this story about a girl who comes of age and unlocks the secrets to happiness thanks to running.

Where I decided on NaNoWriMo 2015

Where I decided on NaNoWriMo 2015


This novel is a lot more of a pantser project than my first idea, which is nice and planned. But maybe this is a good thing! Maybe I write one with emotion and on the fly and I write the second (the Civil War one) after NaNoWriMo when I can really read info and add in the important historical details.

I know I can do this. Thanks to my experience as a runner, I know it’s all about putting in the work daily. And running isn’t just a theoretical part of my writing. It’s a practical part because  I think through plot, flesh out characters, and sketch scenes in my brain during every workout.  I can write both of these stories. I have already written full manuscripts for The Forest of Dreams, Runner’s Luck, and Dare Club. I have completed two big revisions on Dare Club. I can write both my planned story and my pantser story. 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Creativity and Goals

I’m not sure what’s in store during the dog days of summer, but I definitely went through a “spring slump.” In early May after the completion of some big road races and writing conferences. Although I had plenty on my plate and managed to meet the deadlines for client projects, I wasn’t feeling the love I usually need to boost my own projects.

I didn’t fight the slump. I slid into it. And then after an indecent amount of time slumping, I slid back out. Right at the time my laptop suffered water damage. So there I was without my main means of creativity just when I’d managed to wake up my muse.

I’ve got my laptop and my energy back. And I’m tapping into two things that help me make good things. I’m hitting halfway on my book reading goal and it’s day 180 out 185 in the year. I’m running again and boosting my energy. I signed up for an art class called Zentangle that truly allowed me the chance to create a lovely little piece of art and reinforced my feelings of positive accomplishment.

How do you boost your creativity?

zentangle creativity

Getting a little creative

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Creative Writing Ideas

Some people have difficulty accepting input on their creative works, especially creative writing. I think they worry that if they incorporate someone else’s idea, the work isn’t their own. But I really love getting creative writing ideas from people, especially children, mine or anyone else’s kids.

People new to writing often say, “I shared this story with my kids and they loved it!” Unfortunately that phrase smacks of amateurism. It’s great that your kids love it, but your kids also love you and kids can’t often separate their feelings for a person from something the person creates. Most adults can’t even do that! So while it’s great to ask kids for their opinions and creative writing ideas, it takes time to learn when their advice is valuable.

Brainstorming and Creative Writing Ideas

So while I refrain from mentioning if my kids like something I’ve written, I’m pretty shameless about working with my kids for brainstorming and inspiration. They have some great creative writing ideas. But I don’t stop there. I use other people’s kids, too. Just yesterday I called a friend’s third grade son and he really solved an obstacle I had in my app idea.

Recently my middle son had a friend over and they kept shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho, oh no!” That phrase sparked a story in my brain about either a clumsy Santa Claus, or a not-so-helpful assistant to Santa. Over dinner I shared my ideas with the boys and we decided to write a story about Santa’s new puppy who gets into all sorts of trouble.

I like Snowball and Blizzard. creative writing ideas

I like Snowball and Blizzard.



My kids really got into the story development process. My fourth grader brainstormed character names for the puppy. He did this on his own, without me asking. I love that he knows I will listen to his ideas and that he cares enough about my writing to contribute and make it stronger. I also love how he knows not all of these ideas will work. That’s a big concept for a young kid.







Good titles are hard for me. creative writing ideas

Good titles are hard for me.


Not only did my middle son and his off hand comment turn into a creative writing prompt, he suggested alternative titles. I was calling the story “Santa’s Best Friend” but I really like “One More Helper.” Titles are so hard for me but titles and cover images sell books and stories. I love how he suggested more than one alternative title.



The boys also suggested topics for other stories. They are little generators of creative writing ideas. The middle one wanted to read about an apple seed, so that became “Root Camp.” And again, the middle one wanted something about salt and pepper, so I am in the process of writing a kid’s mystery about which seasoning pushed pepper out of the spice cabinet.

The older son gives me great critique on my middle grade work. He tells me if he understands the dialogue and if it sounds real or not. He also tells me what doesn’t make sense to him when I describe action. He’s doing a lot of text analysis in class right now and his critique skills have definitely improved.

I don’t ever mention to editors or agents how my children feel about my work, but that doesn’t mean I’m not asking them. I value their input and their ideas. But I also involve them in the creative process and share my struggles and confusion with them. I let them know when I’m stumped and if they help me figure out a missing piece of the story, or fix that line that doesn’t rhyme in my story about dinosaurs rocking out I give them full credit.

It can take awhile for a child to learn that not all of their ideas will be used. And it can also take awhile for people to accept input on their creative works. But it can be so effective to get outside input. In this Publishers Weekly podcast, author Holly Black described how she develops some of her works by sharing rough drafts and general ideas with her critique group. Her process sounded really familiar to me and really validated my ideas that getting input can make a better final product.

Are there certain people you trust when it comes to contributing creative writing ideas?

Are there certain people that you never listen to?


About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Notes for NaNoWriMo (Write)

Started these notes on Nov. 7, one week into NaNoWrIMo.

– Write.

– Use those 15 beats. Write out several versions of the story you think you want to tell.

– Work on those character descriptions early in October. Know those characters before hand and your story will flow.

– Read great books all month.

– Definitely block that time off on your calendar. That is working great!

– In October, start minimizing meetings that you accept in November. Get work done in advance whenever possible.

– Still schedule in your running and exercise.

– Journal the month before.

It’s now Nov 30, and I finished NaNoWriMo on Wed, Nov. 26.

– Don’t worry too much about exercising but a good walk helps.

– Don’t try to avoid caffeine by drinking that herbal tea called “Easy Now.” You may be allergic to the flowers in it. It gave you vertigo, possibly.

– Absolutely respect the time you have blocked off to write. That worked perfectly.

– Write scenes even if you decide not to use them later and even if they don’t make sense with previously written scenes but you think they may fit with the story after you revise it.

– You’re going to feel bad about your story at some points. Keep writing anyway. You can revise it!

– You love parts of your story. You’re going to feel so good you sat down and wrote this. You can revise it!

– Telling people, out loud, that you’re going to win, helps.

– Write with a friend. Write by yourself. Write in the morning or the evening, or both. Write a lot. Write!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner write

(I hope I remember to come back and read this in late September 2015!)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s almost November! And you know what that means? NaNoWriMo 2014!

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is only a few days away and I’m itching to get started. I had two ideas in mind for this month’s project.

Project Ideas

1. “Sweetie” is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in Depression-Era Baltimore.


2. “Buyer Beware” tells the story of a self-centered middle school boy finds an old iPod at a flea market that gives him the ability to hear people’s thoughts.

I asked my kids and they voted unanimously for Story Idea #2. Which one would you like to read?

How will I prepare?

Once I’ve settled on my project idea, I’ll work off an outline. I’ve already laid out the basic 15 beats for Buyer Beware based on what I learned from the wonderful Save the Cat workshop presented by novelist Jessica Brody. So that pre-work is done. If I go with Sweetie, I’ll have to take the time in the next few days to lay out those 15 beats.

Preparation also includes clearing my calendar of all unnecessary lunch and coffee dates, setting times for workouts that don’t interrupt the whole day, and making sure that I note which days I have to go over the recommended daily word count. We will be traveling in November and I’m attending the WPA SCBWI conference this month, so there will be several days when it will be really hard to hit my word count goals.

What’s my plan?

I’d like to hit 2,000 words a day in the first two weeks. That means “BICFOK” or “butt in chair, fingers on keys” will be my mantra. I’ll shove that inner editor aside and work to tell the story. I’ll rely on dialogue a lot, because that tends to be my strong point. I’ll also see if I can add in some character-development scenes, setting description scenes, and work to include sensory information that I often leave out of first drafts. I’m not trying to do these things just for word count but also to strengthen my first drafts and think about including elements that make a good story right from the beginning.

Are you tackling NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your story idea? Good luck!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

sexually submissive

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Why Farm to Table is Great for Kids and Families


Farm to table Pittsburgh

March 21-22, 2014

This weekend is the 8th annual Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh! I am really excited to be involved in this year’s event again. The theme for this year is Food Sources and the conference again offers lots of excellent activities for children. The conference has always been family friendly, but a new feature of this year’s conference is the special Kids’ Track of programs! Both Friday and Saturday there will be programs and speakers just for kids and families. The Kids’ Track is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of eating healthy, local food. And if you’re not already convinced to bring your kids downtown, remember that kids under 12 are free!

We are so lucky to have this event in Pittsburgh. I recently spoke at the Parenting Expo here in Pittsburgh and discussed how helping children experience food with all of their senses increases their comfort level with foods and can help them learn to try new foods. Growing foods, shopping at farmer’s markets, attending events like Farm to Table and seeing gorgeous photos of fresh foods being grown, even meeting our local farmers, are all positive ways to help children develop a willingness to try new foods.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Kids’ Track on both days. On Friday, I’ll be hosting a special Tasting Party for kids, and on Saturday I’ll be hosting the Super Fun Local Food Challenge School Assembly! Both of these programs are available as school classroom workshops or assemblies and work with the Social Studies standards for Pennsylvania schools.

Of course in addition to these programs there’s the Local Food Tasting on Friday night and the Saturday Networking Breakfast. Both events are hugely popular. By the time I got to the Saturday breakfast last year all of the food was gone – it was so good no one left a crumb!

I’ll have an exhibitor table again and I’ll offer an encore to last year’s very popular Pizza on a Stick Tasting Party. My boys love coming to Farm to Table and roaming the tables, trying everything from local honey to local cheese, pickled vegetables, fresh milk, apples and more. This year I have decided to get one of those mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of these tasty fungi!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 Farm to Table Conference. Bring the kids, stop by and say hello!


About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.