Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stupid Writing Rules: Your Protagonist MUST Steal the Show

By the ever opinionated E.C. Stacy

Being that I try to paint side characters that intrigue readers—the quirkier the better—more than once I’ve heard a comment like this about my work, “You’ve broken the cardinal sin! The supporting character is more interesting than your hero!”

A critique partner who scours a manuscript looking for anything that could get it rejected may indeed be inclined to believe such a notion. And after a few people repeat this movement, the fallacy becomes a ‘rule’ just like show don’t tell which I bludgeoned into the grave where it belonged. But I just don’t believe there’s a how-to writing book out there that claims anything like the quote. And if one does support that claim, it’s wrong because my Crap Meter tells me so.

I can hear the keyboards revving up to sorely debate me, but hear me out. Since we’re more likely to have a love for these hit films in common, watch as I use cinema to strangle yet another asinine bit of brainwashing.

No Country for Old Men
Who were your eyes riveted to in each scene? Anton Chigurh, that’s who, brilliantly portrayed by Javier Bardem. Oh, by the way, he got an Oscar for that which kind of says something about what the audience wants. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just the acting that compelled us. It was Cormac McCarthy’s creation of an antagonist who overpowered each scene by hauling around an oxygen tank as a weapon. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) were good characters, but the most interesting creature in this tale was the villain.

Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday: “I’m your huckleberry.” Need I say more?

Star Wars
C’mon…you know that Han Solo was the coolest player in that series. We needed a rogue in the pilot’s seat because we knew Luke would do the right thing…which can be kind of boring. So often, the shapeshifter does indeed wind up being the flashiest character in a plot.

Pirates of the Caribbean: the First One (I’ve forgotten the episode name)
Captain Jack Sparrow, who dazzled us all, is NOT the hero. Will Turner is. This film took an innovative approach to telling the story through Sparrow’s Point of View rather than the protagonist’s.

In fact, a hero really shouldn’t necessarily be the most colorful personality because we want to admire and root for him (or her). The hero has a job to do and if he has too many idiosyncrasies that prevent him from fulfilling any of them, the reader can lose their bonding with that character…and possibly the story.

Now, if your critique group buddies swear that your protagonist is fresh, brilliant, risky, and all those adjectives that can be construed as interesting, then good for you. More power to ya! Today more than ever, we need protagonists who haven’t been done to death. However, a writer should never change the hero just to compensate for another character that blossomed into something memorable…unless of course, you really believe that Hannibal Lecter should have been watered down. In that case, good luck selling your manuscript, Clarice.

Shameless Plug: My latest in the Cougar series noted above comes out May 23rd with Total E Bound publishing.

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

LOL -- I have a manuscript ready for revision, and I like the sidekicks and even the bad guys better than I like my heroine. You've made me feel just a tiny bit better about that (although I'm still going to "fix" my main character in the next draft).