1. musicgirl87
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    musicgirl87 Member

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    Should my secondary character be my protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by musicgirl87, Aug 15, 2015.

    Hello.

    I think I've confused myself into a corner by thinking the following issue over too much:

    I'm currently polishing the structure and character arcs for my current project, a low fantasy story, with no magic or real gods and such, set mostly on an alternative Earth with a medieval/ancient flavor (I know, hardly original).

    I have four main characters with POVs:

    1. A female, in continent A (is from continent B): I consider her to be the actual protagonist, just because the whole idea of the novel was to tell her story.

    2. A male, in continent A: basically her love interest. At first he wasn't even going to have a POV but now he's more developed and has his own arc going on too linked to the female's.

    3. A male, in continent B where the war is actually going on: I actually added him to the story a few weeks ago as he just came to me and he fitted so well with the world and in the story and has a important role at two points.

    4. A male, in continent B where the war is actually going on: this is the character confusing me. He was created as mere instrument to let me show what's going on in the war setting first hand, so I wouldn't have a potential* reader having to find all about the war and other important events through quick exposition all the time. I really don't have a personal connection with him as I do with the other three MCs, but, thinking about the whole thing in a strictly functional way, if most of the plot points are determined by events in the war setting, and the character in that setting is a major force behind those events, isn't he technically the MC?

    If the focus of the story was the actual war, I know he'd have to be the MC. But I see the war as instrumental. I choose the war as background to the simple story I wanted to tell about the female character. Said war does serve as the driving plot of the story (to keep it moving and to create situations for the characters to develop) but it's not really the focus of it, for me the characters and their arcs are most important.

    Can I do that? I know I can, but I mean, would a potential reader think it makes no sense the 4th character is not the MC? And that the war is not really that much featured in the story even though major events happening during it affect the character's arcs so much?

    It kind of terrifies me to ask for your opinions about it, because I'm scared my story as is planned won't make sense because of the issues I mentioned, but the sooner I know the better I guess.

    Thanks for reading, and sorry for the long post.


    * I write as a hobby for myself, but I still want to achieve a certain standard, so I plan and write having in mind how actual readers would react to or judge it.
     
  2. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the story is Female A's, then she is the MC, but it sounds as though you have other, very strong characters too, who all play their part.

    I do see your problem, though (probably not the answer you wanted) with the Male 4 character. How much of the 'war' have you written?

    My advice would be to say if Male 4 is concerning you, and you don't feel anything for him anyway, give us the war through exposition or messenger reports.
     
  3. musicgirl87
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    musicgirl87 Member

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    Hi OurJud.

    I haven't actually done any writing (just heavy planning) on the stuff dealing with the war first hand and I should clarify than in any case, the two characters on the continent were the major war is going on won't actually be on battles and such, they'll mostly see and suffer the practical consequences of the war and most important with Male 4, deal with and influence characters who are Leaders in the war and so have a direct effect on the outcome.

    I do think about it like you say: female MC + other strong characters, but honestly at the moment I'm so confused. I'm not sure if it's justified for her to be the MC over the others even though I consider her to be. It certainly was in the beginning when it was just her and with male 1, but since I didn't want him to be a cut-out love interest, I gave him an arc of his own, making him very interesting for me too. Male 2 has an interesting personal sub-plot going on for him as well. I think they are rivaling the female character for attention, which I'm not sure if it's good or bad. Did I shoot myself in the feet making the secondary characters have stories too interesting on their own?

    I could deal with the realization that actual the female character and the other 3 are equally important and so they're all the MCs, things wouldn't change much on a practical level they way I have it all planned. However, what worries me is if Male 4 would be considered the true MC if my story was analyzed.

    So getting back to the original point, I think I made things too complicated for me to be able to cut out Male 4 as a POV character at this point. Since I felt the need to add him, I didn't want him to be just for exposition, thus I made him quite involved in key events and now without his POV, the other characters would learn of these events, but not know the real force behind them. I guess the logical question is, do the other characters need to know he's responsible in good part for those events?

    Wow, it just came to me since now I have a second character in the war setting, and I actually connect with him, and he already interacts with Male 4, perhaps I could manage to have Male 4 be a character Male 3 interacts with fairly often and gets information from, without needing Male 4 to have his own POV chapters. Of course, cutting down those chapters could make it tricky for me to achieve certain situations I had planned, and Male 4 POV serves as my "shocking" opening to the story, so I'd have to make that chapter a prologue instead. But I'm going to have to study this option.

    Would that fix my problem though? If I got rid of Male 4's POV I'd have a background character with no POV doing important stuff behind scenes that affect the driving plot a lot. Would that make sense?
     
  4. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, if handled well. As I said in my last post, telling Male 4's role via a messenger (Male 3 as you suggest) is just another option.

    When I'm struggling with characters' individual roles within a story, I look to films to see how it's done. Find a film with a cast of characters who have major roles, and see how it's handled.

    The Nicolas Cage film Red Rock West, for example. This has three other characters all playing major roles, but Nic Cage is clearly the MC.

    To be perfectly honest, I'm not the most qualified to be answering this. I don't write fantasy, and I never write in 3rd person - precisely because of the problems you're highlighting here.

    Writing in first-person is so much easier, in so many way, and removes all the confusion and problems associated with a third-person POV.

    Sorry I can't be more helpful.
     
  5. Sifunkle
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    I don't have any definitive answers for you, but perhaps some theorising can help you work it out for yourself (?). Despite what you say, I'm not convinced you actually have a problem! Maybe it's just a mindset thing?

    For starters, who says you can only have one MC? Maybe you've got several interwoven plots, each piloted by a different MC and joining up for the climax. Or maybe there's one main plot, so the character driving that is perhaps the MC, but then you've got subplots, which may (or may not) be driven by other characters who are also important. If a story has several different settings (over time or space), it's not uncommon to have a different viewpoint character for each, all of which could be referred to as an MC.

    Related to this, there's an idea that there are actually three types of MC role, which may or may not be filled by the same character: narrator, viewpoint character and protagonist.

    The narrator is probably only important if you're using first person narrative mode (otherwise it's just some disembodied voice), in which case it's usually the viewpoint character, but not necessarily the protagonist (the character who drives the plot). For instance, Moby-Dick is told by Ishmael, whose eyes we see the story through, but it's really Ahab who drives the plot (and he's not even introduced for several chapters). Then there's A Song of Ice and Fire, which has a third person non-character narrator, about a million viewpoint characters... and I couldn't pick a single protagonist if I tried (I can't identify a consistent plotline, so I've no idea who drives it :whistle:).

    From what you say about the war being the driving plot, but wanting to tell a simple story about the female character, it kinda sounds like character 4 is your protagonist, but maybe character 1 is your most important viewpoint character (i.e. the one whose perceptions and interpretations of events the reader is expected to take on as their own).

    Maybe don't worry about identifying your MC. Just write them all as well as you can and it will come out in the wash (maybe one emerges victorious, or maybe they share). It might help to have a think about all the different plotlines you're juggling and then figure out what roles the characters play for each. Or if you simply must have just one MC, then pick the single main thing your story revolves around (in as few words as possible :)), then figure out which character is working towards that most.

    Hopefully there's something useful in that long-winded ramble. Good luck!

    ETA: To answer your other question, I don't think your other characters absolutely have to know about character 4, as long as the reader can connect the dots. It's up to you to decide if it would be effective/doable.
     
  6. musicgirl87
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    musicgirl87 Member

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    Thanks for taking your time to try to ease my mind, you two have been quite helpful to make me think and realize a few things about my story.

    First of all, yes, I definetely need to read or watch fiction that deals with my problem. The ASIOF books is what I have at hand and I never could get to the middle of book 1 (I love its world and the TV show, but the books are so daunting, and I say that as a book devourer), so I think I'll try again if only as research. I wouldn't mind finally picking up the Moby Dick copy I have around somewhere.

    The distinction between the three types of MC was also very soothing. Now that I know there's nothing jarring about the issue that worried me, I think I'll be ok. Mind eased!

    Thanks
     

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