1. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Who is protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Rumwriter, Apr 15, 2013.

    In a story like The Great Gatsby (just using this as an example), the main story revolves, IMO, around Gatsby, and it is his conflict that drives the plot forward. But we get the story from Nick's POV, thus giving us a little narrative distance from Gatsby. (I think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is done the same way, but I haven't read it in years.) In this sort of situation, is Nick the protagonist, or is Gatsby?

    That is just a wonder I had, but I really started thinking about it because I am working on a new short story and I just can't decide what sort of POV I want to do it in, and I was considering using that same sort of narrative distance, where it is once character relating the story of another character. The story revolves around really trying to get into the head and understand this other character (I should start labeling them in this post so it doesn't get confusing: Let's call them the Nick or Gatsby respectively) -- so it revolves around trying to understand my "Gatsby's" story, and I thought by using a "Nick" I could help the reader identify with the curiosity of other characters within the story. But at the same time I feel this limits me in certain regards. Of course there is always a trade off, and I ultimately have to decide what is best, but if we were to say there are certain "distances" of narration, where a first person narrator gives us the closest thoughts of the character, and then moving further and further out we get a third-person subjective, and then third-person objective, etc, in general, how would the distance of a first person "Nick" narrator compare to a third-person subjective from "Gatsby's" POV.

    Boy, I really hope I didn't lose you guys too much in all of that.
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    The protagonist is the character in the middle of the story. The one around whom the core plot revolves. The narrator can be a complete outsider to the plot and still happen to follow it. For example a journalist can follow someone who is on a quest around, that doesn't make the quest his.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is sometimes not an easy question to answer. I'm thinking of No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. It tells the story of a man named Llewelyn Moss who finds two million dollars in a briefcase at the scene of a drug deal gone bad. There's also the sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, following him. Of course, Moss is being chased by an agent of the drug cartel who wants to recover the money. In the book, the main chapters are separated by little inter-chapters told from the sheriff's viewpoint. The sheriff uses these to muse about the events going on and his own thoughts. They emphasize to the reader that the story is really the sheriff's story - he's the protagonist.

    When the Coen Brothers made the movie, they eliminated these inter-chapters (it would have been hard to find a way to include them in a film). The effect of that was to shift more of the focus on Moss, so it looks like Moss is the protagonist. This confused a lot of viewers because of the way the last act plays out. I read reviews of the film that were strongly negative because the reviewers left the theater saying "What ...?" They didn't get it, because they didn't understand that it was the sheriff's story all along.

    That's an example of the same story told in two different media, in which one seemingly innocuous decision on the filmmakers' part drastically changed the focus, and hence the meaning, of the story. To me, the novel is successful and the movie is a well-made failure because of this apparent shift of protagonist.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Assuming your story has a single plot* that is central to the story, the protagonist is the actor of that plot.

    The protagonist is not necessarily the POV character. For example, Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's series, but the POV character is Dr. Watson.


    *Plot: combination of an actor, a goal or objective, a motivation, and an opposition. See What is Plot Creation and Development?.
     
  6. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Cog's right about that. Been watching Ergo Proxy, Cog? ;)
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope. Had to google it to know what you were talking about. :D
     
  8. Krishan
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    Krishan Active Member

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    This is interesting. Even when I read the book I was taken aback by Moss's death, as I thought he was the main character. I can see that had I been thinking of it as the sheriff's story rather than Moss's it would have made a lot more sense to me.
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I found it funny that the virus had the same name as your handle. I figured you'd gotten it from there. Oh well, my Sherlock Holmes moment went to waste. :p
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i always assumed he took his name from rene descartes' classic line, since cogito is clearly a thinker...
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Cogito ergo spud. I think, therefore I yam.

    - Descartes, who may have been misheard.


    (Not my line; I don't know who came up with this.)
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Masher...

    In truth, I came up with Cogito for another, now defunct forum to discuss a TV series. When I decided to graduate from silent watcher to contributor, it was already clear I had definite opinions on where certain storylines would go (Moi? Opinionated?). Anticipating that I expected to begin many posts with, "I think...," I recalled my high school Latin to make my user name a literal reflection of that opening phrase.

    I was aware of Descartes' famous quote, but it wasn't really behing my choice of name.

    That forum was also one of Daniel's, and there was a link to this site. With all the story ideas I had for that site, I decided to get back into writing, after many years of having abandoned that hobby.
     

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