Tag Archives: Protagonist

13.4: Protagonists Who Aren’t Sympathetic

Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard

This week we’re joined by Valynne Maetani, who’ll be one of our hosts all year. We’re discussing protagonists who, per writer intent, do not engender audience sympathy.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson.

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Write a likable character, but write them in such a way that the reader does not want them to succeed.

13.1: Hero, Protagonist, Main Character

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

2018 is our Year of Character, and we kick it off with a quick exploration of the differences between heroes, protagonists, and main characters. Beginning with addressing the question “wait, aren’t they all the same person?” Because that’s the elephant in the room. Or maybe it’s three elephants. Or two. Sometimes there’s no elephant, and if you look carefully you can see an elephant-shaped hole, which is probably more like a negative number of elephants.

Liner Notes: We referenced The Hollywood Formula, which was introduced to us by Lou Anders in Episode 6.18. We also keep saying “protag” as a verb, which to us means “doing proactive protagonist things.” Howard may have made up this word, but its true provenance has been lost to the mists of anxiety of influence.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. For audio quality purposes the studio contained zero elephants.

 

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Tell a story with three characters—hero, protagonist, and main character. Tell it three times, once for each of those in which they are the POV character.

Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen

11.26: Elemental Mystery Q&A

In this episode we field some questions about elemental mystery. Here they are!

  • How do you balance between two mysteries in the same story?
  • What types of mysteries can fit well as sub-plots?
  • What do you do when beta readers figure out the mystery really early?
  • In the MICE quotient, are mysteries all “Idea” stories?
  • How do you write a protagonist who is smarter than you are?
  • How do you make sure your genius protagonist is still experiencing an interesting struggle?
  • How do you make a kidnap victim more than just a MacGuffin?
  • How “literary” can you make your mystery?

Liner Notes: The movie Howard referred to is Cellular, with Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and Jason Statham.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

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Take a book or film that you enjoy, and write down every mystery you see.

I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Excuses 10.5: What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring?

Characters are the focus of the Writing Excuses Master Class during February, and we lead off with an exploration of a common problem: the main character is often the least interesting person in the story. And of course, in the process of exploring the problem, we look at the sorts of things you can do in order to solve them. It something each of the hosts has struggled with, and we talk about the solutions we’ve arrived at (insomuch as we’ve managed to solve the problem.)

Sidebar: In Season 9 we talked about character attributes using a slider metaphor. If you want to catch up on that, here are links to Episode 9.1 (the three-prong model), Episode 9.25(sympathy), Episode 9.26 (competence), and Episode 9.32 (proactivity.)

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Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater

Writing Excuses 9.22: Microcasting

Microcasting! It’s a Q&A, with each question serving as its own little micro-podcast. This week’s questions:

  • Should you include your prologue as one of the three chapters you send in a submission packet?
  • How do you get out of the spot where your protagonist has no motivation?
  • What’s the best way to prove to a spouse that your writing is more than a hobby?
  • How do you get back into a project after taking a break from it?
  • Where do you start research for historical fiction?
  • Let’s say you sold your first book. How do you tackle book 2 in a series?
  • How do you go about writing an overarching setting, like Brandon’s “Cosmere?”
  • What part about being a writer do you most enjoy, besides the actual writing?

Those are the questions. You’ll have to listen for the answers. Fortunately they’re not hidden or anything. We just come right out and say them.

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Look around, identify an everyday object, and then create a post-apocalyptic setting in which that object is currency.

The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, narrated by Ellen Kushner, Nick Sullivan, Neil Gaiman, Simon Jones, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Richard Ferrone, and Tim Jerome

Writing Excuses 9.13: Three Pronged Character Development

We talk about characters a lot, which is fitting since characters are what make things go in most of our favorite books. Brandon introduces a new model for examining characters in which three primary attributes – Competence, Proactivity, and Sympathy – are contrasted. We treat each one as if controlled by a fader or slider, like on a mixing console, and we look at what the relative positions of those sliders do to a character.

It’s only a model, obviously, and it’s not how we go about starting a character, but it has proven useful in troubleshooting characters who aren’t accomplishing the story purposes we want them to accomplish.

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Come up with a race of creatures in which there is a sum which you’re not allowed to push past, and you have sliders on these people that control their attributes.

The Killing Moon: Dreamblood, Book 1, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by Sarah Zimmerman