The Hidden Protagonist by Ron Zayas


I was halfway through my novel, following my character descriptions and intricate outline to a T, when I realized I had the wrong hero.

The sword-carrying Mirach was the focus of my book — it was even named after him — but suddenly it became clear that Arianna was the true hero.

How could this be? I figured as the writer I was the one to decide who gets to be the main character. But Arianna felt otherwise, and dominated every page on which she appeared. As the book progressed, it became clear she had the moral centre and strength to carry the story. Result? Time for another rewrite of The Mirach Saga.

At least I comforted myself that my nonfiction work would be less complicated, but here again I was stymied.


I wrote Lessons from the Len Master (Post Hill Press), to highlight the advice my father had given me on life, business and negotiations. The book was divided into three sections: advice to apply to business, lessons for personal growth, and how to negotiate more effectively. Each chapter began with a real-world incident, and then flashed back to childhood lessons learned before concluding back in the present day with how I applied my father’s wisdom to the problem at hand.

Again, I thought I had full control over my narrative. The book was published. To support pre-sales and drum up interest, I conducted classes and seminars based on the lessons it contained. Immediately, I found that the most popular sessions were about negotiating. More specifically, the most visceral and insightful comments came from women who applied the lessons from the book to haggling better on their salaries and forming teams to get ahead at work.

Their comments — and the success they had — were typically the most positive feedback I received. Other promotions also bore out that women were ordering the book rather than men. My father’s day campaign (“buy this for fathers everywhere”), failed to move the needle on sales, while presentations to mostly female audiences did really well. Most of the positive reviews were written by women as well.


I thought the advice was the protagonist, and would be just as relevant to men and women. But learning to negotiate and the reasons why we don’t do it well resonated better with a particular audience, one not traditionally associated with these corporate transactions. Just as importantly, when I included stories that had women as the focus, my audience rated them as much more memorable.

So, what is the lesson here?

Don’t assume as an author that you have total control of your narrative.

Characters grow and take on a life of their own. Your audience is complicit in your writings and will get out of it what they individually experience. Maybe next time, when your writing takes you somewhere unexpected, just let it go and see if it leads you to a better story.

Written by Ron Zayas

About the Author

Ron Zayas is a the author of Lessons from the Len Master ( and numerous other books on business and marketing.  Ron holds a bachelor’s degree in social psychology. A licensed pilot and classic car enthusiast, Ron enjoys traveling the open roads and skies around the world with his wife Elizabeth. profile (


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