1. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    I'm worried my protagonist is being overshadowed

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mikmaxs, Jun 11, 2016.

    I’m not even sure if this is really a problem, but it might be.


    The story I’m writing is about a girl (Adelyn) on an adventure to rescue her family. She is the main character. It is *her* story, her stakes, and its her decisions which drive the plot and get things moving.


    The problem is, I’m worried that her character is overshadowed by the other ‘Main’ Character. (David.) He’s a bounty hunter whom Adelyn hires, since she can’t handle the task on her own. His backstory is just… More interesting. He’s got history, secrets, a buncha stuff going on.


    Adelyn isn’t old enough to have a long and complicated history, and it wouldn’t fit the setup if she *did* have a deep history. She can’t have secrets, because she’s the POV character, and I hate it when POV characters somehow seem to know that it’d be better for the third-act reveal if they never ever think about their issues or problems.



    Like I said, I’m not sure if this is a problem. Han is more exciting than Luke. Everyone except Ron is more interesting than Harry Potter. Theoretically, her lack of deep, complicated backstory makes her a more effective, relatable audience surrogate. I just don’t want it to become David’s story that happens to have Adelyn in it.
     
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  2. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) Just because she doesn't have secrets from the audience doesn't necessarily mean that the things we do know about her are going to be boring

    2) Make sure there's always something that she's contributing directly to what's happening, even if it doesn't look as flashy as what he's doing at the same time, and that what they're doing together won't work if she fails her part (even if he gets his part to work)

    3) Maybe make him unwilling for whatever reason to go along with what she wants at first? That way, even the things he can do that she can't still reflect positively on her for the psychological strength of convincing him to do the right thing.

    EDIT: have you ever heard of the term First Person Peripheral Narrative for when the narrator-character isn't necessarily the character who does most of the direct action for the story (most famously Ishmael and Dr. Watson opposite Captain Ahab and Sherlock Holmes respectively) for some reason or another?
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2016
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Can an MC not have secrets though, that are not revealed until later? It's been done before in some other works of fiction, although it's unusual.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It depends on what you mean by MC. If it's the main character whom the story is about, but this character is not the POV character (like Captain Ahab or Sherlock Holmes) this character can certainly have secrets the readers don't find out till later. The trouble comes when the MC is also the POV character—the character whose head we are in during the story.

    If the 'head' character keeps secrets from the reader, that can get tricky. It can be done, but it's tricky. We normally trust the POV character and feel we're fully in his/her head. If we discover later on that lots of key information was withheld, the reader can feel cheated.

    Imagine a Sherlock Holmes story told from his POV instead of Watson's. He would have to reveal his thought processes as they unfold, which would leave little for the reader to guess at. If it turned out that he had thought processes going on which the author didn't tell us about, we'd feel annoyed.

    Presenting him through Watson's eyes (POV) means Holmes can keep his secrets till he's ready to reveal them to Watson.
     
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  5. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jannert You know, you don't actually need to imagine that ;) According to the article I linked about the First Person Peripheral, there were stories narrated by Holmes instead of by Watson, and a lot of readers do consider them to have not been as good for almost exactly that reason.
     
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  6. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Hi there.

    I have worried too long over the same in my WIP, as I have (more or less) the same setup with two respectable MC's and their counterpart MC's. My solution was to worry and fiddle with the storyline and the characters so long that they now (I hope) are a match to one another in terms of 'history' and 'problems' and goals they bring to the story. It felt like a tightrope dance to get this right.

    How on earth I will manage to bring it all into words I have truly no idea, but... live and learn - and write! :D
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't know that. That would certainly be annoying, unless you're a diehard fan who would love to outguess Holmes.
     
  8. JennaPeterson88
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    JennaPeterson88 Member

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    I just wanted to chime in and say that you could look at this a different way. What if what you're discovering is that your story might be more interesting if you tell the bounty hunter's story? You definitely don't have to take this advise, as there's plenty of great advise above for working with your protagonist assigned as-is, but I'd be tempted to consider which story is more worth telling. I know of at least one quite successful author who started writing one character's story, then in revision realized that the real story was with another character. The resulting re-write is Green Rider by Kristen Britain, and it spurred a successful fantasy series.
     
  9. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    Well, funny story: Part of the reason his backstory is more complicated than hers is because, originally, it *was* his story. I've been bouncing around a version of this story's universe since I was thirteen. It's totally (and I do mean *Totally*) unrecognizable now, but his character, (Who I came up with at the age of 15,) is still around. Admittedly, he's pretty damn hard to recognize either. (His first name stayed, and a few basic personality traits. Four years of rewrites and revisions changed everything else.)
    But, in all that, I had at one point worked out a story with him as the lead protagonist. (ACTUALLY, it was a story told from someone else's perspective, Sherlock Holmes style.)

    The problem was and is, he's simply too powerful to write. As in, I am not a talented enough writer to create interesting challenges for him to face. The only way I can make him work is by forcing him to face *someone else's* challenges, and have to deal with restrictions that way.

    That's where Adelyn came in. Originally, she was a McGuffin. Not exactly a princess in a tower, but mostly just a quest giver. That didn't work either, though, and the more I worked it the more I realized that the story had to be about her, and David had to be a supporting lead.
    (It helps that I actually gave her some personality as I reworked her.)

    If I'm being honest, the first half of my story is True Grit with Magic. But, that's aside the point.

    I'll stop rambling now.
     
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  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that sounds fantastic :)
     
  11. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    The greatest lesson is that the devil is in the details.

    There is a really neat side to not being interesting. You get to "become" interesting. Or at least tht is how I see it in my story. My girl isn't the life of the party book one. Tons of characters outshine her. Like, seriously, the end of one of my books is pretty much a character destroying her with no effort.

    But that is the point. She will beome better than the person who destroyed her. The story is that journey. So of course she started out boring. If she started out awesome, she had no where to go.

    Ya know?
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure that's a good thing...
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    As long as she's still making decisions rather than relying on the bounty hunter, I don't see a problem, especially if he makes decisions she disagrees with. She might then question it, try to get him to do it her way (which he knows won't work) or go off half-cocked on her own because she thinks she knows better and he has to come haul her butt out of the fire.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2016
  14. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh? Why not?

    To be fair, maybe I didn't explain it enough. Mentally destroyed? Maybe destroyed was too harsh.

    The winning character was like 5 moves ahead. She reveals this and the MC is like. "DAMN! You had a counter to every one of my moves. I never stood a chance!"

    But the failure is motivation for her to improve.
     
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  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's fine if it was the mid-point perhaps. But you said this was the END of your book. There is no more room for improvement, and no one is gonna read book 2, if that were your solution, after an entire first book of pure frustration and disappointment.

    You egg on the MC and hope at some point in the story she grows up or wakes up or somehow, some way, steps up. For there to be some resolution, triumph, epiphany. If at the end of your book the ending is, "DAMN! You had a counter to every one of my moves. I never stood a chance!" Then my response is, what the hell was the damn point of me reading this in the first place? What, so i can be affirmed that the impossible odds really were impossible? Where's the fun in that?

    If your DAMN! moment were the massive failure right before the climax when all hope seemed to have been lost, so the turnaround can be that much more dramatic - then it makes good sense. But the DAMN! moment can't actually be the ending of the story.
     
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  16. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I see nothing wrong with that. True Grit works, even though Rooster Cogburn is absolutely the more interesting character. I think Mattie was given just enough sass of her own to not be completely overshadowed by him - her own 'grit' driving Rooster to do this little kid's dirty work. I'm not saying Adelyn needs to be a tough as Mattie, but if she's got a big enough personality of her own and the reader can understand why someone as experienced and tough as David would willingly work for her - they will still love her even if he is the more interesting one.
     
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  17. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    I mean, are we talking how tough they are physically? Adelyn could kick Mattie's ass. Aside from the magic, she's just a big person (*for her age).
    But Mattie definitely wins on spunk. A big part of Adelyn's character arc is about her learning to take charge and lead rather than passing the buck of responsibility, so at the start she's not going to be the driving force Mattie was.
     
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  18. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually like stories where the hero loses (if it's done well)
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That would be really hard to do, but sure, why not? :) got a book in mind that does this well? Mind you, by recommending the book, you would ruin the ending - meh :(
     
  20. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Did you ever hear of the animated series Code Lyoko? It was basically a Wake Up Go to School Save the World show by way of The Matrix, but what made the series special was that the villain - an AI that hated humanity - tended to win during any given season finale, and the first half or so of each season afterwards tended to focus on the heroes trying to play catch-up figuring out how the rules have changed in response to the villain becoming stronger and stronger and stronger ...
     
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  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I assume you're referring to 3rd person POV, right?
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Nope, don't know it. Sounds like an anime :)
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. First person can be (and often is) an 'unreliable narrator.' They are telling the story, and they can be telling the truth as they see it—or they can be lying, keeping secrets, whatever. They are no more trustworthy than a person telling you stuff to your face.

    A third person POV is the person whose perspective the author wants us to see the story from. These characters may be wrong about many things, but we assume we are getting their real perspective and not a bunch of lies or deliberate omissions. Of course we won't know everything about them at first, but we assume we're getting the truth, as they see it, during any given moment in the story.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say a third person unreliable narrator isn't possible ...but I can't think of any instance where this has happened. I expect if it has, the reader has felt cheated.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016
  24. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since you read mine, @jannert, you will know that I had some similar problems. When I first finished, I couldn't really say for sure who the protagonist was. I decided it was the senator Aulus, since he makes the key decisions that drive the story, to launch the mission, to engage Gaius and Antonius, to continue when all seemed lost, to rise to the defense of Marcia at the risk of everyone's life, to follow the lead of his betters in the escape. Without these key decisions, nothing would have happened. The other characters, however interesting, support or respond to his key decisions. But other than that, he is in the background most of that time... probably appropriate since what is going on while travelling back overland is wholly out of his ken. Only when he is negotiating politically, like in Luoyang or in Bactria, is he in his own element and able to take on a POV for some chapters. Antonius, Marcia and Ibrahim completely overshadow him as interesting characters, as well as Galosga and Hina. Yet Aulus too changes... a much tougher person, physically and mentally, when he returns to Rome.

    My solution was to shift POV around among all the characters, so they could also tell their story, and you didn't seem to find that confusing.

    One character I did change, as discussed with you separately, is Gaius. Let me know what you think about what I did with him.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't had a chance to even dip in to your new version, Lew. But I had no problem with the multiple POVs. You have written a bit of a saga, and I think multiple POVs in a story like that is common enough. What kept it all going was the common goal ...to get there, and then to get home. Of course a few characters came into the picture that didn't share those goals for various reasons. But I didn't think one or two characters overshadowed the others. I think they all played their parts.
     

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