On March 27th I wrote a piece titled Novel Number Two. (https://wordpress.com/post/acrackinthepavement.com/114)
In it I touched briefly on the protagonist and how he didn’t work. I want to bring it up again, this time with a little more detail.
To bring you up to speed, the moment I completed my first novel I immediately jumped into my second. I had an idea, I liked it, but I didn’t draw it out as much as I did on the first one.
Looking back that should have been the first red flag.
The plot was interesting, the setting was workable and the side characters were surprisingly deep.
I could see everything but what I couldn’t see was the protagonist.
I remember not being all that concerned. I’ll figure him out, I promised. He’ll tell me who he is the more I write.
The more excuses I had the more I believed. This should have been another red flag but as you can see I was color blind.
I went ahead and wrote the novel. Whenever he appeared I struggled. When he wasn’t on the page I didn’t.
The side characters did their best to carry the story but it was clear something was missing. He didn’t have a spark that the other characters had. At times he was boring and at other times he was mechanical.
But most of all he was a mystery.
It was a drag writing him in a scene. He became the guy nobody wanted to invite to the party but always found a way of showing up.
None of this stopped me from completing the novel. I pushed though, convinced I was doing the right thing. But at the end I still had no clue who he was or what he wanted or where he wanted to go.
Realizing this didn’t go as planned I presented the first draft to my writers group. I remember the opening prologue, minus the protagonist, was solid. The feedback was positive enough to create a belief that all was well.
Sadly it wasn’t.
Once he was introduced to the group it went downhill fast. It didn’t take long, after a handful of chapter readings, to realize this novel of mine was in trouble.
Looking back I remember having a balance in my emotions. On one hand I secretly hoped they would disagree with my gut feeling that the protagonist ruined the story. But on the other hand I was glad when they did.
Sometimes things need to die and in this case it was my novel.
After a few readings I convinced myself I could fix it. I tried changing him up. I added a back story, tweaked his personality and gave him a different look.
But the results stayed the same. He fell flat.
The group was patient and helpful but they made it clear I was missing the mark and when the day came to put it aside it was one of my most disappointing experiences.
I felt bad for the story. By not taking the time to draw it out I let the characters down. Not just the side characters who I knew, but the mysterious protagonist as well.
But I knew I was doing the right thing. I was drawn to this idea but I knew I couldn’t come back until something told me it was time.
That ‘something’ was February 4th, 2018. Super Bowl Sunday.
A brief glimpse of a dejected player walking off the field was all I needed. There was something about him that took me back to that stranger who would not open up.
The following day I went back to work and created the protagonist that was meant to be. It was as if he was waiting for me to find him. Who knew it would be on the losing end of Super Bowl LII.
Sometimes it takes something small to unlock a mystery. In this case it took a worn out player finding his way to the locker room to open the door that I had been looking for.
10 thoughts on “The Dying Protagonist”
This conveys one of my most cherished life philosophies (that holds true no matter if it’s a relationship, a job, living situation or even writing)….learned many times, the hard way, since I’m fairly hard headed…..things happen when it’s time for them to happen. If you try to force something, it usually goes sideways and ends up being more work and stress. Good for you that you were able to let it go and let things flow when the time was right!!
Thank you, Angela. So true. I can still remember the phone call that I made to a member in my writer’s group telling them that I was pulling it. A learning experience to say the least.
Writers are people who unflinchingly speak truth. But first, they have to be willing to see it.
Tough lessons. Eventually we figure them out. Thanks, Joel.
Great job! I believe it doesn’t matter how long you take to get there, as long as you do in the end! (Although, this adage works less well in engineering…) Also, always listen to gut feelings. They’re not 100% infallible, but the more experienced we get, the more trustworthy they are! Took me a fair number of years to figure this out. 😀
Thank you. Alice. Gut feelings are such a strong instinct. We need to pause and listen whenever they strike.
I like your glimpse into the writing process – if I ever morph into creating characters I will remember this little piece…… Glad you got your inspiration!
I want you to morph and morph and more morph. We’ve had this conversation…..remember? 🙂
Lol yes…… hm…. that requires digging – I’ll have to get my digging stick lol!
Dig, dig, dig, my friend. You can do it!!!