Tag Archives: fantastic protagonists

Writers Beware: Would You Rather Will Get Your Pencils in a Bunch

I hope everyone is enjoying the last few days of January! I’m currently in Minnesota and its weather is so different than Maryland. We had a snow storm, however, the locals said that six inches of snow wasn’t that big of a deal… In Maryland, we’ve had several seventy degree days this winter.

In the spirit of wintertime, I went ice skating with friends yesterday, am planning on going snowshoeing, and am disappointed I’m leaving Minnesota the day before the yearly ice bar opens. However, one of my friends in Minnesota with me lives farther south than I do. So, I dared her to go stand barefoot in the snow for five minutes (this is a type of extreme conditioning to acclimate your body to colder temperatures). She didn’t take me up on the dare, but it got me thinking about the game “Would You Rather.”

So let’s play! I’ll ask some questions and provide my answers. Feel free to comment with your answers or post these questions and your answers on your blog. Don’t forget to link back to me! I’m excited to know what you say.

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Would you rather live your entire life in a virtual reality where all your wishes are granted or in the real world?

This is difficult! On one hand, I’ve got some pretty hefty wishes I’d love to see come true, and living in a world where everything I desire is granted seems great. However, I believe that (1) if you don’t experience the negative sides of life, you won’t fully be able to appreciate and be grateful for the positive, (2) you can’t become a better human being if you don’t work, struggle, and compromise for what you want, and (3) there wouldn’t be a sense of achievement for accomplishing anything, because you wouldn’t have to work toward anything. Therefore, you’re more likely to have a flimsy layer of self-confidence, so that if things were to ever get tough, you’d give up before you really tried. Plus, part of establishing deep, meaningful relationships is working through the tough times, and how can you ever truly know yourself, if you never face hardship or your fears.

What I’m trying to say, is that while my knee-jerk response would be to live in a virtual reality, after some thought, I’d rather live in the real world. 

Would you rather go back to age five with everything you know now or know now everything your future self will learn?

Another tough question! Hmm… I’d rather know now everything my future self will learn for multiple reasons: (1) while going back to the past and being able to change my actions and responses to various situations is appealing that doesn’t guarantee that my life will turn out the way I want it to. (2) I don’t know what type of person I’d become if I changed my past. What if I didn’t like myself? I’ve had some dark times and awful experiences and relationships, but I’m more empathetic, understanding, and less judgmental for it. (3) It’d be challenging to grow up again with all that adult knowledge…what if knowing everything I know now royally screwed up childhood’s development process? It’s a lot of what ifs, and choosing to know now everything my future self would learn could also have horrendous results, but I wouldn’t want to relive my childhood. That’s in the past; I want to move forward, not back.

Would you rather everything you dream each night come true when you wake up or everything a randomly chosen person dreams each night come true when they wake up?

 While I tend to have nightmares instead of dreams, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a random person’s dreams each night coming true when they awaken. I have no idea what types of dreams that person would have, and if anything bad happened to that random person because I chose for their dreams to come true instead of mine, I’d have trouble living with the guilt.

I’d rather fight the monsters in my dreams. Heck, I’d have some fascinating stories to tell around the campfire.

Now, some questions specific to writing:

Would you rather publish one insanely best-selling novel and never write again or publish twenty average selling books over twenty years?

I’d rather publish twenty average selling novels over twenty years. I could spend my life being a full-time writer, which is my dream job. I wouldn’t be happy not having writing in my life. It’s part of who I am.

Would you rather read a novel that is written poorly but has a fantastic story or read a well-written book with a weak story?

Both weak stories and poorly written novels irk me. After pouring so much time and energy into creating well-written, strong stories, the writing in me turns into a pit-bull and goes on the attack anytime I see plot holes, flat characters, poor grammar, etc. But, since I have to choose one, I’d rather read a poorly written but fantastic story. The writing may be contrived and clichéd, but I could get lost in the story. Shallow, plot hole-ridden stories get my blood pressure up and I often end up rewriting the story in my head (and grumbling about how such a badly written book ever made it onto the market).

Would you rather write a book that changes a person’s life but receives no mainstream success or write a novel that is wildly successful in sales but that people don’t think about afterwards?

The literary and commercial halves of me are fighting over this question. But, the commercial writer knocks out the literary one. I enjoy writing commercial fiction, and I enjoy reading it. While it may not be the most enlightening experience, I still find myself transported. Plus, being wildly successful in sales could mean that I become a full-time writer. That would be awesome.

What are your answers to these questions? Do you agree with me or not?

(Photo courtesy of Kris Williams.)

Making Sure Your Protagonist Beats Out Others

The protagonist is one of the most important attributes of a story. If someone doesn’t like your protagonist, for whatever reason, it’s highly unlikely that person will finish your story.

We all can probably conjure up a few short stories or novels we haven’t finished because of our dislike for a protagonist. The most immediate one that comes to my mind is from a young adult science fiction novel, where the protagonist consistently made the opposite of intelligent decisions and yet somehow survived and was lauded as a hero. It didn’t matter how many times other people were injured, captured, or died because of the protagonist’s terrible decision making skills, or how many times the protagonist had to be saved by others, the protagonist was still considered this fabulous, fantastic person, instead of the fool.

Other times, while the plot and backstory may have holes in it, the story can be immensely enjoyable because of the protagonist. One book I read was a young adult dystopian novel where the backstory was horrendous. There were too many inconsistencies to count, however I liked the book because of the protagonist. I found the protagonist funny and relatable. I couldn’t put the book down.

So, how do you create a protagonist that isn’t a flat cliché or someone that people would like to shove off a cliff?

One way is to make sure that the protagonist is integral to the story. That sounds obvious, right? But many times I’ve seen the protagonist being dragged by the story, instead of forging it ahead. While having a reluctant protagonist is one thing, the protagonist must have something else that makes him stand out from all the other potential protagonists for your story.

There’s a reason the protagonist is the protagonist. The story is best told from his point of view. In fact, the story couldn’t be told from any other person’s point of view without diminishing the story in some way. A few years ago, I read a book where one of the secondary characters stole the spotlight from the protagonist. I didn’t care about the protagonist; I wanted to know what was happening to that secondary character. The author might have been better suited using that secondary character as the protagonist.

Another way is to have the protagonist be more than the standard hero-type. When the protagonist takes on the role of hero and goes on a quest to fulfill his hero nature, the writing can turn shallow. It’s fine for a character to be the hero. The vast majority of protagonists end up saving someone or something. However, by avoiding using terms like “hero” and “quest,” you give yourself room to explore your protagonist more in-depth. There’s always more to a character, and every hero is not perfect. People have flaws, goals, dreams, problems…they’re a mixture of virtuous and selfish and driven and condescending and a whole bunch of other stuff that makes them this extraordinary puzzle to piece together.

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Have you ever heard a person in real life state that they’re going on a quest? I’m not talking about children playing make-believe. I’m talking about individuals that are firmly grounded in reality.

It’s rare to hear someone declare they’re going on a quest or that they’re going to be the hero. Most often, people become heroes because a situation demands it. There’s a quote from the TV series Lost Girl. It’s when Kenzi is talking about her personality. She states, “General cowardice with moments of crazy bravery.” This quote holds a lot of meaning because Kenzi sacrifices herself for Bo, the series’ protagonist, on multiple occasions. Kenzi is an incredibly caring and giving individual, but she’s also sarcastic, dramatic, a bit selfish, and a thief. She’s complex, and in the end, she’s also a hero. One that people can relate to.

Having a phenomenal protagonist means delving into the core of human emotion. It doesn’t matter if your story is based in the ABC Galaxy that was discovered in 2206 and was colonized in 2447, and you’re protagonist is a dog-bee-human hybrid. Human emotion and strife and success is essential to a protagonist. The common ground that readers and fictional characters connect on is what makes readers respond to characters.

(Photo courtesy of Courtney Wright.)