April 12th, 2011


In Which We Conspire

Or, Who’s On First?

For the most part, The Weekend Novelist does not recommend writing a novel with more than one protagonist, at least not on the first time out. This is because it is usually best to master storytelling with one protagonist before attempting the far more complex multiple protagonist story. After all, writing is as much craft as it is art, and the diligent chef masters the basics before breaking—or even bending—the rules of the game.

But, as Granny Weatherwax says, “If you have to break the rules, be sure you break them damn good and hard.” Presumably to make it more difficult to put them back together again.

Fortunately The Weekend Novelist offers several exercises for stories that require more than one protagonist. And if the writer monkey has done their diligence, most the ground work will already be laid. The first order of business is to consider, objectively, whether two protagonists are needed (romance novels come to mind). Having two protagonists will change a story, no doubt about it; it may even be enhanced and deepened. But can the story be told, efficiently and effectively, with only one? If so, then perhaps reconsider whether more than one protagonist is truly needed. I think a great deal of fantasy writers, especially fans of such writers as Melanie Rawn or George R. R. Martin, are tempted into writing eight-hundred-page tomes with a bevy of viewpoints. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this—provided the writer is prepared with a breadth of extensive, grave-deep planning. After all, Rawn and Martin are the Iron Chefs of their genre. Without the grave-deep planning, the unprepared writer monkey may be buried under all the little rocks because the big ones did not shelter them.

Leaving Las Vegas is an excellent example of a story with a double protagonist. So is Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince. Both, whatever else is going on, are essentially love stories. Other examples of double or multiple protagonists can be buddy stories, or family sagas. A helper character, or sidekick if you will, should not be mistaken for a second protagonist. Robin is not on equal footing with Batman. Robin rarely (if ever) has his own plot.

Which is what it comes down to. To each protagonist his or her own plot. So next it’s recommended to make a full list of characters from memory, from our character work (if you can’t recall a character from memory, then they’re probably not significant enough to be promoted to protagonist). Was more than one protagonist planned from the beginning, or did a second character begin to take center stage during the development process? What was it about them that bucked for a promotion?

For my Big Dang Project, there were several possibilities to consider for a second protagonist, knowing that each option available in FK’s sphere of influence will change my story dynamic, perhaps dramatically:

 Dear Old Dad

The Good Son

The Imperial Assassin

The Minstrel

Childhood Sweetheart

For the remainder of the week I’ll have to pull my significant plot points of both my main plot and subplots into a grid and assign points of view, and see where it takes me, what it does to the story I’ve already set out. Will it be a tighter story to consolidate a subplot or two with the main plot into a multi-hued thread, or should separate threads be woven as originally planned? Then I’ll have to play with my Aristotle’s Incline to get a visual of potential rhythms.