Sunday, January 3, 2010

Protagonist, Protagonist, Who's got the Protagonist?

There was a brownie emergency in the household, and I had to stop and make some before I could get on with my posting. But now that the brownies are in the oven....

I may go back to starting this novel with George. The question is who is in the most interesting place at the start of the novel? George is. At the very beginning, Karla is in an interesting place because George is coming for her, but she doesn't know it yet. If you know her happily ordinary satisfied life is about to be turned upside down, then it is more interesting even in its ordinariness.

So who is the protagonist? I was trained to believe there is only One True Protagonist in every story, but I really don't believe that any more. Love stories and buddy stories (which Blake Snyder considers to be the same genre) are always dual protagonist stories...

And in my opinion, a lot of the great cozy mystery series are dual protagonist stories, even when they aren't romance or partner stories. Miss Marple, for instance, is a character who is very satisfied with her life and needs nothing. Same with Miss Seeton. And Mr. and Mrs. North. And Perry Mason. Very often the protagonist role is shared by the police detectives or clients or ordinary folk in trouble in these series. Sometimes all three.

I think the reason this works in a mystery is because the central problem of the story is the case. It doesn't just belong to one character. The story is resolved when the case is resolved. The problems of the individual characters are subplots.

Now, with my story, there really isn't that much question, there are definitely a series pair of detectives. And they are dual protagonists in the story. But even with partners, you often have one who is the "straight man" - the relatively normal one who the reader is expected to identify with more. It would appear that in this story that one would have to be Karla, who would seem an ordinary small town, middle-American woman who leads an unexciting life. She's not as forceful as Miss Marple. A little daffier. But I think the Miss Marple model is close to the one I need to go for.

George may be more exotic, but he is definitely the most changed by this story, and he definitely learns much more from Karla than she learns from him. He brings adventure to her, she gives him wisdom in return.

And that means, I think, that we start with George.

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