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  1. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Support Personnel as Main Protagonist in Adventure Fiction

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by John Calligan, Oct 3, 2018.

    Imagine two people are on their way to slay a dragon, but they get into an argument and are going to go their separate ways. Can the main protagonist of the story be the mediator who helps restore their relationship, or the smith who makes their swords?

    Imagine a surgeon is working thirty hours straight and his hands are starting to shake. Can the person who calms him down, protects him while he gets a nap, makes him coffee, and keeps people from bothering him so he can perform his life saving task be the main character?

    Imagine Superman is fending to save the city, but he can't do it without Batman. Can the main character be Lane, even if all she does is get Batman, even if she doesn't pull the trigger or save Superman herself?

    Can the person who loads the gun be the main character, rather than the one who pulls the trigger?
     
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  2. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    You can do anything. I can think of two main issues though:
    1. How much harder would it be to write such a story convincingly?
    2. How satisfying would it be to read?
    For example, in your first suggestion, it could totally be the case that the main protagonist is the blacksmith who makes the sword for the heroes. But I would suggest that the heroes should die, and the blacksmith should take up the weapons he makes to save his town from the dragon, thereby becoming a hero in the end. If he ends the story as a blacksmith, what was his journey? How did he grow as a character?
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    That would be my concern too.

    There could still be a story of internal growth – maybe he feels that the smith who makes the sword is inferior to the soldier who uses it, but comes to learn that the support are just as important as those on the front lines? – but perhaps a First-Person Peripheral POV might also work better: where one character is the narrator (like John Watson, or in this case the smith), but another is the lead protagonist (like Sherlock Holmes, or in this case the soldier)?

    I do that POV structure in my own WIP, and I'd say it's worked pretty well for me :) @John Calligan might that structure possibly work for you too?
     
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  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I don’t think characters in adventure fiction necessarily have to grow.

    The examples could work just fine, so long as that’s the type of story you want to tell. It’ll be different from the story of the person pulling the trigger, of course, but that’s OK. If you make the blacksmith pick up the sword and be the hero at the end, then you have a traditional adventure story, not what the OP is talking about here (as I read the post).
     
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  5. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    Why do you wanna know, huh?
    In any sizable story I think there should be at least some indications of growth. People change all the time. Stories are supposed to cover notable moments, so really there should be some minor takeaway for the character, some kind of lesson learned, even if quite small.
     
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  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Perhaps. It seems to be desirable in most books. There are a plenty of adventure stories where there really isn't any change, or if there is it's superficial and doesn't even follow the character to the next book/story.
     
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  7. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    @John Calligan I know for a fact other genres can center a supporting role—as it so happens, my favorite novel did just that—but I've never seen it done in an adventure story. I suspect that's because a book centering a supporting character will skew closer to a drama than a bonafide adventure.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm feeling a quibble about protagonist versus POV character. That is:

    Holms: Protagonist
    Watson: POV

    Gatsby: Protagonist
    Carroway: POV

    You're talking full-tilt protagonist, right?

    I don't see why not. I would likely like the story more, because I've never really enjoyed obviously-important/powerful protagonists.

    I am struggling a bit with the Lane question, because "all she does is get Batman" doesn't sound like much. I'd need a better idea of what she does throughout the story. But that's a detail; you're asking if it's possible, and I absolutely think it's possible.
     
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  9. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    How do you differentiate between the two? For example, why wouldn't you consider Carroway a protagonist? I'm genuinely interested.
     
  10. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Nope! Carroway narrated the story, but Gatsby made all the most important decisions that drove the plot :)

    Though there is apparently disagreement as to whether the term “main character” applies to the protagonist who drives the story or to the narrator who tells the story (personally, I prefer to think of the protagonist — not the narrator — as being the MC).
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Actually, I don't know that I don't regard Carroway as the protagonist, but I know that the general literary consensus is that he isn't. The plot is centered entirely around Gatsby; Carroway is largely an observer. I'd have to read the book again to see if the plot would move even a little bit differently if Carroway had never even been there, but I know that it's about Gatsby.

    My quibble is that I can identify with Carroway, and not with Gatsby. I'm seeing Gatsby from outside, and I want to see a protagonist from inside. So in a way, The Great Gatsby doesn't have a protagonist, for me.
     
  12. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I would argue Carroway is a much more realized character. Intuitively speaking, I like my protagonists as realized as possible. I understood Carroway better than Gatsby, and I was thereby more emotionally invested in him. He certainly felt like the main character to me.
     
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  13. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I largely agree with that. I was more invested in Carroway, but because he wasn't the character driving the plot I was left unsatisfied.
     
  14. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm suddenly reminded of how I see murder mysteries--that they're character stories where the events that highlight the characters' nature and interactions happen to be associated with a murder. Character studies, almost.

    Suddenly I'm seeing Gatsby as filling the role of the murder--he causes the events that highlight Carroway, and the other characters. (I'm not referring to the actual murder in the story.)

    Somehow that casting of the story makes me feel less unsatisfied. Or at least interested in reading it again.
     
  15. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I’ve been planning on reading that anyway, and this is definitely helping :)
     
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  16. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I'm sure there would be some genre blending: Romance, Thriller, Mystery, Crime...

    But the POV support character could still be on the adventure with the other characters. I know I bring it up a lot, but that Nora Roberts novel "Bay of Sighs" makes really strange design decisions, like characters talking about their battle plans for 10 pages and then resolving the conflict in a paragraph--it makes sense, because it is still a romance novel, and the dialog is more important than the fighting.

    Flip it and write a story in the adventure genre with a support POV character who is along for the adventure but it rarely, if ever, the triggerman. How would that look?

    You're totally right about this. There was even a writing excuses a few months ago about this topic--hero, protagonist, and POV character possibly being different things.

    "all she does is get batman" was kinda a genre joke. If it were a comic, then "everyone" reading would know that only the super villain Ra's Al-Ghul knows Batman's identity, so if Batman isn't responding to the Bat-Signal, the only way to get a hold of him would be through someone who knew his idenity. Ra's is hard to contact, but no one hates him more than Luther, and Luther would keep tabs on him.

    So Lane invents a scandal and goes to Lex Corp. demanding answers. Once she has everyone worked up, she agrees to leave in exchange for Ra's calling card. So she goes, but Luther warns Ra's she's coming because he is salty, and he captures her. She then uses her charm / wits / appeal to conscience to learn Batman's identity and escape. She goes to Gotham, flees from the Joker and his goons, and finds Batman caught in a Joker trap. She sneaks in with police help and frees him before anyone can demask Batman. (you're welcome DC).
     
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  17. Irina Samarskaya

    Irina Samarskaya Senior Member

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    Short answer: Yes (and I like the idea).
    Long answer: This is most people's lives, one way or another. We're all supporting some other "main character" in whatever role we pursue.

    I think "lesser characters" (or "support personnel") are actually a lot more relatable and sympathetic than the leads because most of us aren't leaders but followers. Also, the potential for joy, fear, inspiration, etc. is greater when it's the supporting character because that character is much more limited and singularly talented (presumably) the lead who is well-equipped to defeat the adversary (or at least able enough to get those individuals to complement the lead's strengths and weaknesses).

    Not only all I said above, but the supporting role can essentially be an avatar for the reader as the reader may be just as confused, curious, or otherwise unsure and learning as the supporter. The anime "Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars" did this rather well (I haven't finished it yet; about 6 episodes in) as the PoV protagonist is just some kid who is a bit cool and calm but simultaneously confused and curious, following a much more capable and knowledgable peer who is essentially the actual protagonist in terms of moving the story (and the story itself unfolds itself slowly, as initially there is only fragments and mystery; eventually though, things are revealed and, from what I can tell, the purposes of the main characters and the many side characters are going to finally be answered. The journey to solving this mystery is arguably the real focus though, since it's well-done and could easily do without the underlying conspiracy (because it's so good on its own) and is actually enriched by the greater plot that the PoV character is only slowly figuring out and coming to understand.
     
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  18. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Potentially more relatable :)

    This TVTropes page talks about a bunch of reasons why one might use the First-Person Peripheral Narrator dynamic, and some of the reasons were
    • 4. The [plot-driving] character doesn't personally change or grow over the course of the story. In fact, the events of the story are more significant for an observer.
    • 5. The [plot-driving] character's heroic abilities are such that it's hard to show them from his point of view without his coming across as conceited instead of cool.
    • 6. The author anticipates that the [plot-driving] character might be difficult for an audience to relate to, compared with the other characters.
    Though with a reminder that some readers like @Bone2pick will be alienated by the 6th reason rather than compelled:

    Do you think you might like this dynamic the way I do? Do you think you might dislike it the way Bone2pick does?

    I'll have to look for that episode, then :)

    How did they distinguish "Hero" from the other two? The way I split it is
    • Hero: shining pillar of morality who helps other people at personal risk/cost
    • Protagonist: character whose decisions drive the plot
    Largely because this gives an enhanced vocabulary for describing Don Corleone, Walter White, and MacBeth and the such as "Villain Protagonists" :twisted:

    ... That was beautiful :)
     
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  19. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I've always wanted to write comics /tears
     
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  20. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    I'd be interested in seeing how it shakes out. I haven't run across that in a legit adventure story, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Though I wouldn't be surprised if it requires delicate execution.
     
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  21. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Yes but then it won't be a story about two people who slay a dragon. It will be a story about a mediator who one day gets a fun job concerning a dragon, or the story of a smith who is tasked to make a special sword. The story will focus on the troubles this person has to go through in order to mediate an argument or make a sword, it won't be a story abot slaying a dragon.
    Yes, but then it will be a story about how tiresome it is to work a menial job, not a story about a busy surgeon.
    Yes but then it will be a story about a woman torn between two superheroes (or whatever else her personal problems are), not a story about those two superheroes.
    Yes, but then it will be a story about how difficult it is to load the gun for somebody, not a story about what one goes through as they pull the trigger.
     
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  22. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    Just so we're clear, I'm not opposed to centering a story on a support character. I stated in my first post in this thread that my favorite novel did just that. But in that case the support character was given a complete character arc, as was the "staring" character.

    Which begs the question: can a character be considered a POV character if they're given a legitimate character arc? :confused:
     
  23. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I guess the log lines for this kind of thing might be like:

    An introverted hobbit becomes confident as he defeats the dark lord by helping a group of estranged heroes overcome their personal baggage.

    A selfish nurse learns to put other people first when she saves the lives of the victims of a mass casualty incident by leading the way for overworked and exhausted medical personnel.

    A master smith learns humility when he forges a sword used to slay a dragon by humbly submitting to the cultural norms and practices of the elves, dwarves, and ancient ogres.
     
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  24. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Ah, thanks. I think I missed that part. Sorry about that.

    Absolutely :)

    The character who drives the most of the plot, the character with the strongest development arc, and the character whose POV is focused on are generally the same person to begin with ;) and even if one character drives the most of the plot and has the strongest arc, the character whose POV is focused on could still have a lot of plot influence and character development (even if not the most).

    I think those sound pretty good :)
     
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