1. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    Perspective character vs. "proper protagonist"?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JadeX, Jun 24, 2017.

    I recently had a friend of mine read what I have so far, and he asked me "This is more for my own curiosity, but how do you plan on using Chris throughout the story? Is he a proper protagonist, or just a perspective character?"

    It's a good question. What, exactly, is a "proper protagonist? How do I flesh out my MC enough to be a "proper protagonist" and not merely a witness to the world around him? (especially when he's quite confined by the circumstances of said world)
     
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  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Not sure. Theoretically, every story has a "proper protagonist" by default. I think your friend might be thinking about agency. Either your MC has some goals and some influence over the world and his circumstances or he doesn't. If he's just watching things happen... I don't know. Wouldn't be a very interesting story, methinks. I don't know anything about the confining circumstances of his world, but you need to give us something in him to root for. To flesh him out I would think about what he hopes to accomplish and what stands in his way.
     
  3. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    He's just witnessed/survived a nuclear war. The world has changed a lot before his eyes. I'm still fairly early on, so so far I've mostly been finding ways to convey information about what has happened and what the world is like now. He's limited in this setting because he's a teenager, and not really anyone in a position of authority. He's more or less at the mercy of what his family decides and/or what the government orders (for the time being at least). So yeah, I can see what my friend means by "perspective character". Wondering how I could work on that.
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    What's your story? You've spent time on setting (what the world's like, etc.) but what is actually going to happen? What's the main conflict that structures your plot and gets resolved at the end of the book?

    Your MC/protagonist should play an important role in whatever that main conflict is. The conflict doesn't have to be external or huge - it might be finding a way for a pack of misfits to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war, or it might be a boy coming to realize that he can stand on his own and doesn't need to depend on his abusive father (and he discovers this while surviving the aftermath of a nuclear war). But you should have an idea of what this conflict is in order to create a satisfying plot for your readers.
     
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  5. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    I agree with the others. Your friend's question reveals the absence of a personal story for your character. It doesn't matter whether the MC is in post-apocalyptic chaos or in a camping expedition with the Boy Scouts. Give the MC a personal assignment, such as: reuniting with loved ones, discovering a truth threatening the security of the survivors and challenged in convincing or helping them, or any conflict a person could face today that would be exacerbated by the MC's current situation. My main concern after a cataclysmic event would be trying to find my mother. She's quite frail these days. The story would start with me digging through the ruble within the house she lives. I find evidence of injury, but no body. The search is on. Describe the conditions as the story unfolds.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2017
  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Try to write as if you were writing about today. If you were writing a story that takes place today in the world as it is, you wouldn't simply tell the reader what the government is like, or what the environment is like, or what social groups are like. You would need a story that takes place here, within the environment and social groups, and with a government that makes laws, etc. Our world doesn't make your story. Our world is the setting for your story.

    So in your post-apocalyptic world ...what is your story? It's not enough to tell us what the government is like, what the environment is like, what social groups are like. That is your setting, and you will be slipping in details as you write, to keep us on board. But that's not your story. Find your story. Don't get mesmerised by your ability to create a world. That's only the setting for your story. You need to move on from there.

    Your main character? Develop him. What happens to him? Where does he start, and how does he finish? What does he gain and lose as the story progresses? What does he want most of all in his life? Does he get that wish? If so ...how? And if he doesn't ...what then? That will be your story, not what the world he lives in is like.
     
  7. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    A personal story... you see, this is where things start changing, because I originally wrote this as a short story and then decided to turn it into a full-length novel. The first chapter was originally all there was, and so at that point, the war was the story. But now that I've decided to go the route of a novel, now I have to adjust to what will make it a novel.

    The funny thing is, I've realized I've put more life into my other characters than my MC (Chris). I can tell you all about Chris's uncle Roger, or his best friend Connor - but not much about him.

    Right now, Chris is trapped in a shelter administered by the police and military, separated from his parents. He's the epitome of powerless at the moment. Once the all-clear is given, they'll be able to leave the shelter. Chris will then re-unite somehow with his parents. From there, the story will take several turns: Chris's friend, Connor, will soon learn he's now an orphan (leading him to tag along with Chris's family and strengthen the brotherly bond between friends). The city they're in will get overrun with refugees, straining supplies and causing the family to flee to Chris's wealthy uncle's house in a different city. From there, I'm not really sure. Maybe at that point I can have Chris and Connor emerge more as characters, give them both a bit more independence? (Like maybe have more about their personal situations emerge as they, say, go on supply runs or hunts together?)

    I'm still not sure what "Chris's personal story" should be though, even at that point... it seems like he's basically getting tossed around for a while at the mercy of others.
     
  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I would guess the question is, is this chis's story or are you merely using his perspective to tell someone elses story .... it sounds like the former from the above, so he is the protagonist ... if it was the latter (as with say Jake arnnott's the long firm, where the protag is Gangster Harry styles but he is never the POV character) he would merely be a perpspective character being used to tell someone elses story
     
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  9. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    So I've been thinking about the question "What does Chris want?"

    It's an interesting question, and a great way to put things in focus. So I've been thinking of some answers.

    1. He wants to survive. Everybody wants to survive right now, so this one's a given.
    2. He wants to feel safe. As chaos surrounds him, he wants to get away from it. This will be [mostly] accomplished once the family moves in with Uncle Roger, although there will still be some struggles.
    3. He wants to HELP, in any way he can. I've already established this bit about his character. Already, he's helped assemble this makeshift shelter that he and a few hundred others are currently living in. He volunteers for tasks whenever he gets the chance. There's an endless amount of ways he can help in this world. Maybe I can use this desire to drive Chris's personal journey.

    Still, though, is a "desire to help" really enough? Can I really use that to drive Chris's story, or do I still require something else? What else could he want?
     
  10. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Does Chris need to be the main character? Maybe someone else like Conner or Uncle Roger could be the main character of the story told from Chris's POV?
     
  11. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    I chose Chris because I wanted to do something new. Almost all other such stories follow somebody with some importance or authority (like a general, or the President), which diminishes and obscures just how terrifying the situation really is. I chose a teenager to be the lead character because he has little more to work from than his own fear and uncertainty. I really want to convey how this sudden war has paralyzed the general population, so the reader can be in touch with the reality of the situation on the ground.

    Uncle Roger actually knows what's going on, what to do - he's a Gulf War veteran, so he's actually had training in what to do in case of nuclear attack. He's knowledgeable, which makes him interesting, but because of that, someone like him wouldn't be as "afraid" as someone like Chris would be. And that's what I'm trying to convey, by choosing Chris as the POV character - people are scared and feeling hopeless, and they have to learn to deal with that and live with it and learn to navigate the newly-wrecked world around them. Chris represents the "bottom echelon" of society - not much to offer, can't make his own calls most of the time, too young to really be taken seriously anyway, just generally existing at the world's mercy. That's what I think makes Chris interesting, and why I've chosen to follow him.

    Now I just need to learn how to balance that with the idea of him needing to somehow drive his own story in some way. I've set limits for him, and now he has to work against those limits, and it's up to me to decide how to do that in the best way for the story.
     
  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Take cover in a bottle of gin ?

    Put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye ?

    To be honest what to do in a nuclear attack isn't really covered in great depth in forces training beyond put your NBC suit on and don't look at the flash... the bottom line being that there's not much you can do beyond getting burnt, blown up or dying of radiation sickness so its not worth thinking about it too deeply.

    On the wider point what does chris want needs to cover a bit more than he wants to survive and he wants to help ... for example presumably he wants to find his parents, does he want to find a particular girl or boy ... is there something that gives him destination/meaning/purpose ?
     
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  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    How will you know your story is finished? What needs to be accomplished in order for your reader to feel that the story has a satisfying conclusion? If you don't know that, you don't have a plot, yet.

    Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing - if you're willing to do quite a bit of shaping and rewriting, you can treat your first draft as a way to figure out what the central conflict is, and then go back and rewrite the story around that structure when you've figured it out. But if you're more of a planner, then you should figure it out now. Your MC doesn't have to be the driving force behind the main events of the story world, but he should be the driving force behind the resolution, at least, of your central conflict.

    So if he needs to be safe, feel safe, and help others... how are you going to be able to make that happen? Where is Chris going to go to find safety? Possibly that journey is your main plot. In which case Chris should take at least some responsibility for making that journey work. Maybe he's just a dazed follower at the start of the story, but as the story progresses he makes more decisions and ends up helping himself and others to safety.
     
  14. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    I was meaning more along the lines of fallout safety, decontamination, what happens afterward, that kind of thing. In my research I've actually found some real-world manuals and instructional videos that cover exactly that, so that sort of information can be partially provided via Roger, and other means.

    That's a good question, and it answers my earlier question - "Is a desire to help enough to drive the story?" - no, it isn't, because it's too vague and there's an endless amount of ways he can help someone, somewhere, doing something. Back to the drawing board.


    No, I don't. Not yet anyway. Fortunately, I've already decided I'm going to take this story at least a full year out from the war, and I'm not even a week in yet, so there's still plenty of time for me to figure that out and work it in before I reach the point at which I can conclude it.

    Great point. I'll keep that in mind - find a central conflict, and then a way Chris can directly contribute to its resolution.

    Oooh, wow, this just gave me an idea. And this is something I'd thought about in passing before, but never really considered - Uncle Roger is fairly wealthy, has a big house, lots of guns, self-sustainability - maybe some people more desperate than he stage an attack on the cabin, trying to take it, and Chris and his family must defend it using Roger's "personal arsenal" - maybe successfully, maybe not. I had never seriously considered that as a plot point before, but now it seems like a great way I can add some substance to the story and give Chris some better relevance to the plot itself.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2017
  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    What happens afterwards is you die ... in all honesty (speaking as an ex officer) that kind of information wouldnt be provided to roger just because hes a gulf war vet, because nukes weren't a major player in the gulf war (when they say Iraq was suspected of having WMD they are talking about gas and bio). Fallout safety is a bit of a myth unless you are in a shelter with filtered air and recycled water... as soon as you start wandering about outside you are breathing in and drinking radiological particles, and stuff like washing your hair thoroughly , changing your clothes, not touching the underside of surfaces is just rearranging deckchairs on the titanic
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    This line of discussion is a no-go... we've already tried, and have failed to convince.
     
  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Fair enough... and post nuclear apocolyptica is definitely a trope .... although generally they are much more post than immediately afterwards
     
  18. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    That's a bit of a myth. Fallout from nuclear weapons isn't a death sentence for the whole world. In fact, the fallout that's actually deadly falls in the first few days and then rapidly decays. After about two weeks, fallout generally isn't a concern. Even then, due to ionizing radiation, you will be limited in how long you can be outside (1 hour at a time once a day, for example), and there will be occasional flare-ups that may happen with or without warning to make things more difficult, but eventually these will become fewer and less severe over time. People may still get radiation sickness sometimes, but most of these cases at this stage in time would not be fatal. (my writing in this story is based on several years of in-depth research driven by my own genuine interest of the subject material)

    It would certainly be something that would be very difficult to adjust to, and it would probably push one to their limits, but it's not impossible. Just very, very difficult. Fortunately, in this story, they have the benefit of it not actually being the "apocalypse" - the government, while in shambles, is somewhat functional. The war was, for various reasons, short-lived and relatively limited. I've taken the creative liberty of setting the story several years in the future, which gave me the ability to create some new missile defense systems, as well as some conventional weapons that have partially replaced nuclear weapons, thus allowing me several routes to sort of "soften" the impact. Everyone writes about nuclear war as a form of apocalypse; and that may have been the case, in the Cold War days - but that's another thing, is that most nuclear fiction out there is set in the Cold War. What about the modern era, and the evolution of warfare? That's really the inspiration here - nuclear weapons aren't a historic threat, they will be a threat as long as they exist, so why limit it to the past, when it could still happen in the future? Near future, even? (story year: 2022) How will the threat of nuclear war have changed? It'll be a cataclysm for sure, but not an apocalypse. That's the general nature of my story - cataclysmic, but not apocalyptic.

    But now I have to find a way to tell that story through my characters' stories. I've gotten a few good ideas here. I can expand on Chris's desire to help others, and have that evolve into something more, so he has an ultimate goal in mind to work toward. I need to give him some other desires too, and then expand on those. I'll put some more thought into how I can make the story more personal.
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I see what you mean
     
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  20. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    What, because I've actually done my research and know a bit about the setting I'm working with? Because I have an understanding of the subject matter beyond that of an average layman spouting Cold War propaganda? You're deriding me for not being totally ignorant about my setting. How is that a bad thing? How am I somehow bad for basing my setting on real-world science and not popular myths?
     
  21. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Take it easy - no one's saying you're "bad" - we're just saying there's no point getting into the details of the set-up with you.
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I don't agree with your conclusions but fine - you arent going to listen, and its your perogative to write whatever you want, so as Bay says theres no point in having that debate

    On point however I used to be an infantry officer and I can tell you for a fact that being a gulf war vet does not qualify Uncle Roger as an expert in nuclear decontamination... Nato SOP is to use specialist teams for decontamination after exposure to NBC risks, so your average grunt (or officer) is going to know very little about it beyond the wash your hair/change your clothes/ stay inside/ lay face down and pray stuff everyone is taught ... so using Roger to info dump stuff you've found out in your research won't be credible

    Also on the chris and family defending the cabn with rogers personal arsenal ... unless they are trained they arent going to hit a barn in a combat situation.... the guy who's never used a gun picking one up and killing with every shot trope is a holywood cliche.... most people would struggle to get the safety off, and even if they are hobby shooters if they've never been shot at they are more likely to freeze and pee themselves in fear than to shoot back effectively
     
  23. JadeX

    JadeX Senior Member

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    Never said he was an expert, I just said he knows more than most people - which, really, if he knows anything, then he knows more than most people by default. He won't be a vehicle to infodump exactly what to do in the aftermath. Only general things, very general, like you're saying. (to be fair, he actually was an officer, but still, his knowledge is limited)

    Well, the random trailer park rednecks attacking them wouldn't know a whole lot, either. ; )
    It would be a battle of luck, and I still haven't decided which side would win. Honestly I think it would be more interesting if they lost the cabin and had to go elsewhere. If they lose it, then that gives me an opportunity to have Chris step up and start making some decisions. I'll have to weigh my options on that.
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As an example of what I'd see as a story with a "proper protagonist":

    Newly orphaned Connor could tag along with Chris's family, but his primary goal could really be to stay alive long enough to get to some location where he believes his sister to still be alive and in need of rescue.

    Connor could have loyalty conflicts--feeling loyalty to Chris, obligation to his family, but a ruthless determination that when Chris and family stop being useful in the goal of finding and rescuing his sister, he's going to do whatever it takes to move on to the next step in his sister-rescuing quest. "Whatever it takes" might mean stealing whatever he needs as he departs, or it might mean something much worse, like selling out Chris and family to a local warlord in exchange for something that's vital to his goal.

    All of that would happen in the context of the world that you've created, but it's also a story, with Connor as the protagonist.
     
  25. rktho

    rktho Contributor Contributor

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    Sherlock Holmes, I assume, would be an example of "proper protagonist" that your friend is referring to vs Watson's "perspective character".
     
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