1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Member

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    Others Overtaking the Protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Killer300, Dec 1, 2011.

    There already are threads about this I think, but something I'm curious about is this. Have you written a story where you started out with one character as the protagonist, but you quickly realized others were more interesting in both depth and personality?

    Because, I caused this to myself bizarrely. I have a main character who is sort of a blank slate right now, whose next to characters that represent supernatural deities and have complex backgrounds. The first is important because originally, I hoped to show the story through the eyes of a non-superhuman person to... show the world I guess.

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    But if others are more interesting than the protagonist, will the reader be bored by the main character automatically? Or is this okay if done well? I'm guessing with the latter, the idea is for the reader to put themselves in the character's place more?
  2. sirkeystone
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    sirkeystone New Member

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    I know I'm new here, but not to the character quandry. . . So here are my thoughts:

    I have been using the technique of interviewing my character for my blog, to get to know them better. This seems to work for those who tend to be able to hear the characters in their heads, I've noticed.

    I can see your point very well because you already have the more developed secondaries, but I have to ask, how in depth is your character sketching?
    Could you tell me what the character looks like without actually telling me a description of facial features?
    Are you intimately in tune with his backstory and why it would be important to this plot?
    Have you given him a family and what were their relationships?
    Does he have a favorite quote or word?
    A nervous tic?
    Have you rendered him in his age correctly (that one was for me recently as I have been making my child characters too adult/teen-minded)?

    Things that may not even surface in the story, but knowing them gives you a direction to push the character. And as I mentioned the age rendering may not seem important (except in my case where my nine year old protag seems more like a sixteen year old at some points) but it doesn't just apply to age. Does he have physical ailments/disabilities? Is he from a different culture and experiencing the fear and anxiety of being in the presence of these more powerful beings?

    And don't forget the importance of the character development arc in the plot. Does he get stronger/get over his fear/develop his own way of handling the more powerful antags and secondaries that they begin to respect (or fear) him?

    I was never a fan of outlining before, but I have to say that it has been beat into me this past year and it is definitely worth the extra time to develop the plot layers!
  3. je33ie
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    je33ie New Member

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    Hi Killer300!

    I haven't seen it done very often (where other characters are more interesting than the protaganist) but one classic does spring to mind and that's The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    I read the book about 6 months ago and the main storyteller and point of view comes from a guy called Nick who is completely unmemorable and I had to Google his name just then. But the characters of Gatsby and Daisy and Tom I could describe to you so well, and also describe everything they did in the novel.

    If you don't feel like reading the whole book (although it does come highly recommended!) just read some of the plot analyses online - it'll give you an idea of how Nick fits into the rest of the story.

    Has anyone else read the book and felt Nick just fades into the background as the story is told around him?

    Anyway, my short answer to your question is: Yes, it is OK if it's done well, and it can even be a really interesting way of telling a story!
  4. Ettina
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    Ettina New Member

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    The one thing you don't want to do is try to beat people over the head with 'this guy is supposed to be interesting, he's the protagonist' when he really isn't interesting. You could avoid that three ways:

    Make him more interesting - for example, if I was writing him, I'd probably hint at him being autistic and have him be a fish out of water in normal society, whose experience with trying to understand people who don't think like he does gives him a headstart in understanding the deities and such. Or maybe he even had an obsession with mythology, so he's recognizing who these guys are and excitedly trying to figure out how much of the myths is reality. (Or getting scared - I certainly wouldn't want to meet the Greek gods.)

    Make him the perspective character but not the protagonist. I haven't read The Great Gatsby, but one story I have read like that are Moby Dick. In Moby Dick, Ishmael is the sole survivor, so he has to tell the story. But the main character is clearly Captain Ahab. Ishmael gets almost no character development, instead the focus is on his changing view of Captain Ahab as he gradually realizes the guy is nuts and probably going to get them all killed.

    The last option is to make one of the interesting guys the protagonist. It's commonly thought that you have to plunk a normal guy in there for the readers to relate to, but that's not really necessary. Sure, it can make it trickier to write from a perspective that is already immersed in that world (you can't get away with as much blatant exposition) but there are ways to make it work, and if done well it's extremely entertaining. And you could keep the original protagonist in as a side character, and work in the blatant exposition that way. Except this time you'd be getting the exposition from the perspective of either the guy telling him this stuff, or someone listening who already knows it. Maybe you could even have some fun with that - if you have a trickster god like Loki, he might tell the character something that's outright wrong, and since you're writing from his perspective, the readers know it's wrong because Loki is inwardly laughing at the guy for believing it.
  5. Killer300
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    Killer300 Member

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    Ah, thanks guys! This helps me a lot. He could be just a perspective character, or I could just switch things up, the latter probably being more advisable with first person, but not necessarily the right way. Again, thanks guys!
  6. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    A lot of the Sherlock Holmes stories (I would say all but I haven't read them all) are told from the perspective of Dr. Watson. And to be perfectly honest, it probably made the stories better because it added a layer of mystique to the character. You mentioned the "perspective" character... I think that's a good way to look at it. Have the current MC be the character you write in the perspective of, but these more interesting characters will be what drives the story.
  7. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Senior Member

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    Sounds like you have a perspective character, rather than a protagonist. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I often prefer this style, especially when writing in first person. A colorful narrator/protagonist isn't always ideal in stories told in first person, especially when you're trying to give equal footing to a lot of conflicting viewpoints. In those instances, it's often better to have the narrator be someone who is fairly neutral, not someone who's going to give his/her two cents about everything that's going on (which can be distracting or annoying after a while and bias the story).

    The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of a neutral perspective character. I never finished Moby Dick, but what I've read of it seemed to operate along the same lines. For contrast, look at Catcher in the Rye, whose narrator wasn't neutral at all. Holden Caulfield had an opinion on just about everything and look at how many readers found him annoying or abrasive. Personally, I like Catcher in the Rye, but I imagine those who dislike the narrator or his views aren't going to stomach it for long, and that's why opinions on that book seem so mixed -- you either love it or hate it.

    In my current WIP, my narrator is a documentary filmmaker caught in the middle of a brewing revolution in an isolated city. Because of the nature of his project and because he's the 'new guy' he doesn't have a very strong opinion on what's going on, and doesn't really choose sides. But, by being the middleman, he's able to capture all sides of the conlict. Because he doesn't choose sides, (until close to the end,) the reader gets to see all angles of what's going on.

    That's the advantage of a neutral or 'bland' protagonist, IMO. He's supposed to be overshadowed by the people around him because, although the story follows him, it's not truly about him... if that makes sense. It's really about the city. My protag is just the guy who walks us through this divided world as it slowly tears itself apart. We may not remember Nick Caraway or Ishmael, but we sure as hell remember the tales they told.
  8. Killer300
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    Killer300 Member

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    Ah, thanks. Well, that could work, except its kind of an odd situation plot wise for him to be a perspective character, however perhaps I should do that.
  9. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis Member

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    I have, but not because the others were 'more interesting'. Sometimes certain people (protagonists in this case) need to call it quits, or maybe they've finished their part in the story and it's up to their friends to finish it. Maybe they died, maybe they're worn out and just can't keep going. In my story, the main character dies at the end, with the main antagonist; the overall story doesn't end there, that's just one segment of the whole thing.

    I mean, it's not really different from replacing antagonists is it? Which is more commonly done, because you're supposed to relate to the protagonist, not the antagonist. :p
  10. blandmanblind
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    blandmanblind Member

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    You also have to remember what makes these ancillary characters more interesting than the protagonist is their mystique. They are not always present, and with only sparse appearances their scenes/chapters/parts seem more energetic and moving.

    A good example of this (disclaimer: my opinion) is in Harris' novels Red Dragon/Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal. Hannibal Lecter is a bit character in Red Dragon, but is intensely fascinating. He gets more attention in Silence, and it is still very good, but he is by no means the main character. He is center stage in Hannibal though and the book suffers for it. The wonder of his character is drained away as we learn more and more about him and his mindset.

    My thought is that as you explain more and more about such a character that has been wrought with such brief intensity beforehand that it is nearly impossible to maintain that level of enticement the more words you write about them.
  11. Killer300
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    Killer300 Member

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    Ah, interesting point, blandmanblind.

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