Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Main Character – Protagonist – or Hero

Main Character – Protagonist – or Hero ??

Because the creation of characters is so central to writing fiction, it's worth prolonging the discussion, especially after recent comments on a LinkedIn forum board indicated writers are either ignorant, or confused, or perhaps take this topic too much for granted.

As a story begins to form in your head, it naturally begins to spawn players, whether they be human, animal, machine, or whatever.

Think of a player as exactly what you see – a stick person, nothing more and nothing less. They are merely a vessel into which to put characteristic functions.


These can be very basic and simplistic characteristics, but the more this player is developed, the more real it will seem, and the more impact on your story’s development.

Typically the first player that comes to mind is the one through whom the audience experiences the story (the point of view.) Having been endowed with physical features, behaviors, attitudes, and all those things that make it real, we can refer to it as the . . .

                              Main Character

 Okay, Okay. Enough of the frivolity.     
                                                                                                                                                    The Main Character
However, hold up there. All that physical stuff may not be necessary. In Order of the Brethren, the story is told by what appears to be an omnipresent individual who could be slouched in an overstuffed chair in his undies, chomping corn chips dipped in salsa, and guzzling iced green tea while relating the tale.

In this story, the Main Character is Francis David Evreux who is writing about his illustrious pirate ancestor, the Dolphin, 400 years after the fact. It doesn't matter what David looks like, but we may get a feel for his personality by how and what he tells the reader.

The Protagonist

The Protagonist is the chief proponent and principal driver of the effort to achieve the story's goal, the prime mover of the plot. As you can see, the Main Character may not be the Protagonist. In this story, the Protagonist is the David's ancestor, the pirate Dolphin.

By chosing to combine the Main Character (point of view) and Protagonist (prime mover) results in . . .

                                                The Hero

With these concepts in mind, what is playing out in A Pirate's Legacy  series? The Brethren takes place in the early 1600's. The Main Character is David, a descendant living in the year 2000, telling the story about his ancestor pirate, the Protagonist pirate, Francois "Dolphin" Evreux. In a companion series, David tells of his own adventures of recovering the Dolphin's treasures. As these stories are told by the Protagonist, David, he becomes the Hero in that series.

Choosing the Protagonist to serve as the reader’s position in the story, thus creating the Hero, limits the scope of the story. That’s not to say it’s wrong. You determine how much to tell. It's just that the more viewpoints you have within the story, the more creative versatility you have.

That said, I can waffle on that point. Even though the Hero-telling-the-tale is limiting, I'm sure an imaginative writer can devise techniques around that that will not leave the reader confused. 

By this time the writers has developed one or two characters depending on view point, thus bringing us to the next important player – the Antagonist. This player can either wholly oppose the Protagonist from successfully reaching the goal, or can have a goal of its own causing negative repercussions so it becomes the Protagonists goal is to stop he, she, or it.

As stated, the viewpoint from which you intend to tell the story has a great bearing on development of this set of players. There are two.

One is the called the Overall Story View which is like watching a baseball game from the stands. The reader can see and easily identify all the players on the field, and come to know exactly what position each player fills on the field, and what is expected of them when the ball is hit.

The other viewpoint is the Subjective Story View told as seen by the Main Character and the Antagonist whose job it is to block the way to story goal. Think of it as seeing events unfurl as seen through Batman's eyes and through the Joker's eyes.

As stated, I have chosen to tell Order of the Brethren using the Overall Story view using a Main Character (David from 400 years in the future.) This allows me to move freely between locations, thus filling the reader in on events happening outside the Protagonist’s (Dophin) view, and by seeing action from the viewpoint of other important players, such things as the precipitating event (a kidnapping for ransom), the struggles the Dolphin's wife encounters during his absence, the spy mission lead by a fellow pirate and her boat of children, the attack to free the kidnapped, major sea battles, and the final confrontation of protagonist and antagonist.

These are the players so far:

1.  David Evreux, Main Character.
2.  Fran├žois (the pirate, Dolphin) Evreux, Protagonist.
3.  Lord Bartholomew Chudleigh, Antagonist.

Once this set of players is established, open their tops and start filling them with characteristics to bring them to life. Some time back I mentioned using a form for each and every player so to keep things consistent over the series. There are any number of ways to approach this, but generally what I have observed is that writers generate far more detail about their players than used ina story. While time consuming, I frankly think that is not a bad approach. You want to create 3-D characters. Give them strengths, and weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.

A great site with a comprehensive list of character flaws can be found at: Dark World rpg.com. Moments before this post a nice, concise list of body language descriptions arrived worth consideration: Body Language Cheat Sheet. Of course, a great learning tool is to review some of the top movies: Rotten Tomatoes.com. Pick a few favorites, pop some corn, and then watch for what makes the protagonist and antagonist come to life.

While it may be possible to create a story just around these two or three characters, that may become too boring for the reader. The next move would be to round out the story by adding more players. The recommendation is at least six which leads into the next month's discussion.