Daily Archives: December 4, 2011

Buttressing Your Protagonist, Part 1

Every story you read will supporting characters. Even if you come across one with only a lone ranger of a hero, there will be elements of the story that fill in the role of supporting characters.

As I rewrite and revise Primeval, this is something sticking out in my mind. For me, there are three different kinds of characters — or perhaps three different kinds of hats.

Look at that charming man. Thank you, southdacola.com!

1. The top hat! Everyone loves a top hat. We all know how fetching Abraham Lincoln looked in one. Just look at that guy. He was the star of his era. You just can’t mention his time of history without mentioning him — tragic, yes. John Wilkes Booth saw to that bit. But he is a clear player, either the protagonist or antagonist depending on where you sit in the stadium of the Civil War.

Your character in the top hat will be the clear protagonist, always in the reader’s mind no matter what. You might have a couple characters who wear that hat — and that’s okay. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time has several, and they are incredible.

This hat keeps your head covered AND opens your beer! Get your own at walyou.com

2. The baseball hat. Classic teammates, these ones. These are the characters who play a role in the action, but don’t take center stage much if ever. On occasion, whilst writing them, you will find that they start gabbing at you, sounding something like Charlie Brown’s mother, until you give them a bigger role. In Primveval, my character Jezebel did that. She started as just a girl who blew in from New York to holler at one of my other characters, and then she fluffed a pillow, made a bed, and stayed there — baseball hat securely on her head. Sometimes you shouldn’t allow that, but she ended up being a rather essential character and playing the role of seeker. She took off and found answers to problems I didn’t have time to entertain in the world of my protagonists.

These characters should be the source of tension and conflict as well as support. They’ll poke at your protagonist, argue with them, and sometimes try to wrest control. This is good — it drives scenes. It doesn’t mean they’re not on the same team, just that even on the most well-oiled team, people become disenchanted with their position.

Awwwwwww. This kid shouldn't steal the show unless he's flinging macaroni at your protagonist. Image via uncommongrace.typepad.com

3. The beanie/took hat. This is someone who is, for the most part, just chilling in the background. These characters are the ones who should blend, even though their presence is necessary. Cab drivers, hotel bellhops, bored convenience store employees, passers-by, etc. Make them too unique, and the readers will think they are supposed to notice them for a reason. If they do start making some noise, make sure it’s a clear purpose — comic relief or a foot stuck out to trip up your protagonist on the way to a goal.

In this draft of my book, one scene I will be adding is a brief moment where my protagonist, Tarah (pronounced TAR-uh) runs into a man her best friend flirted with once. This scene will be a source of tension, because it occurs after Tarah has left the human world behind, and this man is a reminder of what she has lost. These people can serve as placeholders or purposes, but they should never take center stage.

Alrighty, folks, now that I am effectively going to be late for work but completed my blog for today, enjoy your Sunday!

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