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  1. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    Protagonist vs. Villain

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by AJSmith, Mar 7, 2011.

    In the novel I have been writing, I naturally developed my villain's backstory, personality, motives, etc. Somehow, I've made it two thirds through my draft, and I'm realizing my protagonist is very nebulous... even to me.

    I've spent some time, trying to "get to know her" better, but now I have so much written with what I feel is a pretty two dimensional character. I feel that on some level, she has developed some throughout the story, and that she will continue to develop as her story unfolds, but I do think she needs a stronger sense of self to come across.

    I am very familiar with her story and what happens TO her, but she, herself, seems very unfamiliar to me, and I'm afraid that is coming across in the form of inconsistencies in her behaviors and reactions.

    Is this something to worry about when I go back and revise, or should I stop all progress and figure out how to fix this now? Suggestions and ideas are very welcome.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My general philosophy is, if you're writing? Keep writing.

    One possible idea, though: What if you wrote some extra scenes for your protagonist, even if they're not going to be in the book? Even a few pages following her through an ordinary day might tell you things about her. Or you could have her accidentally hit a puppy with her car, or get caught in a rainstorm while carrying a really valuable piece of art, or go to the theater and sit next to people that insist on talking out loud. In general, you could write about any situation that puts her under some stress, even if it's not stress that has anything to do with your novel, and even if you throw away the scenes and the events when you're done.

    Also: Is it possible that your book is really about your villain? There's really no rule that says that the good guy has to be the protagonist.

    ChickenFreak
     
  3. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    Thank you so much!

    I like the idea of writing additional scenes...to be used, or not. I think that would really give me a sense of the person my protagonist is. I've gotten so caught up about this (and a couple of other hangups) that I would say I am not writing, but stalled about 2/3 through... though I know where I want to go with it, I just can't seem to get there.

    You bring up a good point about it being possible for my villain to be the protagonist. She definitely has a story to tell and is a major player, but I am writing from the current protagonist's perspective...If my villain were the protagonist, what would that make my current protagonist? I guess I am not 100% sure of the qualifiers for a protagonist.

    I think because my villain is such a major factor in the plot, I've thought through all her motives and idiosyncrasies, whereas my protagonist is simply reacting at this point at things that are happening "to her".

    This actually brings up a connected question. Does the fact that my protagonist is reacting to things that are happening "to her" rather than actively seeking/trying to achieve a goal, make her too much a victim??

    The story is much too long and complex to complete in what would be a single novel, so it wouldn't be until the end of this novel, that my protagonist takes more of an active role in her goals. Also, her goals are significantly different at the end of the novel than the beginning because she gains significant knowledge over the course of this novel.

    Thanks again.
     
  4. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    If you google the term 'what would my character do ?' you will come up with helpful exercises in character devolpment
     
  5. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If your lost your path it might not be a bad idea to stop and revise. (Generally it is a bad idea, but not always)
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I find it usually takes me a first draft to get to know characters properly. They are a bit flat - just keep writing you can always rewrite them later.

    I keep a blog with my characters just about to complete my new one and have it ready for reading - it helps me know how they feel about the story.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the 'protagonist' is generally the main character in the story... and whoever/whatever opposes the protag, or keeps him/her from reaching his/her goal, is the 'antagonist'...

    despite the prefix, a protagonist doesn't have to be a goodie and the antagonist doesn't have to be a baddie... it's only their place in the plot that determines their role/label... pro/for the goal and anti/agin' the goal...
     
  8. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    That was my general thinking, but I'd let my protagonist get so passive that she seemed like a victim to me. I realize now, that that was just part of her "journey".

    Just last night, my protagonist started to become real for me. I was so thrilled about it! She was entertaining and surprising me as she fell onto the pages.

    I appreciate the feedback from each and every one who responded to my thread and will be keeping track of all of the good ideas for when I'm stumped again.

    Elgaisma, I see what you mean about needing the first draft to get to know the characters...I've finally let myself go and realized that I should just let the story flow while I'm trying to finish my draft. Revision is the time for nit picking.

    This is all very new for me. I never knew that I wanted to write anything beyond a college paper. I grade student papers and love teaching writing to my kids, but I never considered myself a "writer". I don't know what happened, but one day I just woke up and had to write a story that fell into my brain. Now that I've been writing, more story ideas keep demanding my attention... if only I could finish the first. :)

    This forum has been so helpful and educational already!
     
  9. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    I actually have done this several times along the way, but I do understand now WHY it is not necessarily the best way to go. I've gummed myself up pretty good trying to pick apart areas of my rough draft before I've even finished it. Oh well... learning as I go. :)
     
  10. AJSmith
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    AJSmith Senior Member

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    Thanks for that. I haven't found exactly what you are referring to, but I will keep looking.
     
  11. JohnKPatterson
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    JohnKPatterson Member

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    Building off of ChickenFreak's advice, I would say look at what she may do when her day is ruined, or when she gets flustered (if she does get flustered), or undergoes some other kind of huge and unexpected stress. Write out a few scenarios, each one having her act differently in the same situation, and pick which one feels the most right to you. You can also develop your character further by looking into the causes of that action. Ask yourself, "what in her habits, past, or convictions can lead her to act like this?" and gain a clearer sense of where she is coming from and where she is going. Even if that detail never makes it into your story, you can still use it to understand the person you have created, which makes her more likely to be a three-dimensional, living force on the page.

    Good luck with your story!
     
  12. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    So hard to say without knowing the context of the character, but I think I know what you're saying. I've had similar problems before.

    I'd recommend taking a look at Stanislavski's method. He was a theatre guy, but he had the right idea when it came to character. Also I think Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules from Bagombo Snuff Box regarding short stories could be helpful to you (even though this isn't a short story.) They're easy enough to look up, but the most important one for you is, "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." Your character's desires and aspirations are what define her.

    Good to know that your character is starting to take on an identity. Maybe you'll be so kind as to post some details.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try not to be too technical about your characters - if you think about people it takes time for you to get to know a friend usually. Over time you get to know them, know their reactions and how they function. My writing isn't very good but the overall feedback is I have good characters :)

    With my books I have had some interesting phenomenen - I started my second book writing about the same characters and world thinking ahh this will be easy. Thing is I had written the first book from the POV of seventeen-year-old Angus, the second was from the POV of his twenty-nine-year-old brother Socrates. I didn't know those characters as Socrates -for example Nate was a big brother type to Angus, to Socrates he is a lover very very different interactions lol I have a character called the Abbot that to Angus is a bit strange and terrifies him a little. To Socrates he is good friend, boss, and mentor. It took me another first draft to finally get to know Socrates from inside his head instead of from Angus' perspective and to get to know all the other characters as Socrates.

    Over a first draft you will find out quirks, strengths, mannerisms the things that bring your characters alive. One thing I do find useful is to find an actor preferrably one who sings to base my characters off physically - it helps with mannerisms, emotions, and those little touches of physicality off like maybe a bird shaped nose, nice rear end, monstrous carbuncle etc

    I would always advise rewriting the first five chapters entirely from scratch when you have finished - I would love to know if I am right but I think I am noticing who has and who hasn't of some amazing published authors, you can see the awkwardness of the characters in them.

    Look at the character songs thread listen to some of them and read the lyrics they are an amazing resource. They build an effective character in just a few words Shakespeare style.
     

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