Kicking Your Protagonist In The Ass

You can’t go home again.

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the very real urge to go for the over-used quote…

I did…err…go home again. Well, I came back to visit the state & town (and house) where I did, in fact, grow up. When I start to think I could, maybe, put up again with Southern California in order to get back to the beach and the ocean, all I have to do is visit.

Hell, I don’t even have to actually visit. A five-minute layover at LAX is enough to remind me how much I hate this place…

Beside the oppressive atmosphere…and the crowding…and the expense…and the complete superficiality…this is an area that is just stultifying to me. I am instantly locked back into the stasis of younger days. It does not kick off anything for me, nor prod or goad me into action. Nope, what it does is set me back more years than I particularly care to think about.

It takes something big to kick me out of that particular rut: some action, some event, some thing.

Wait…is there a writing point in there somewhere?

Of course there is.

Stasis.

All stories start in stasis, whether you want them to or not. That’s pretty much Writing 101: your protagonist is in stasis, and something has to knock him or her out of it in order to start the journey of plot and character development.

Defining what that stasis is really matters. Someone can be running down a dungeon corridor, fleeing undead gophers bent on world destruction, and still be in stasis. Our hero might be stuck in a rut as an adventurer, looting yet another dungeon and running from yet another pack of zombie rodents.

Or maybe the stasis is personal: yet another bad night striking out at the single’s mead hall, yet another dungeon-crawl to wash away the hangover and bad taste of sleeping alone.

Regardless of what it is, that stasis is important. Where your protagonist starts is just as important as where they finish. More than that, it defines the journey.

If I tell you about staying in Prague and going to a brewery in Plzen, that starts you thinking in one (not terribly interesting) way. The starting point does not help the story along, nor does it make the end matter.

img_0021If, however, I add that the man I was taking to the brewery was a veteran of the US 3rd Army and helped to liberate Plzen sixty years before, that starting point changes drastically and things get much more interesting*.

*And, yes, I really did do that…and yes, that short excursion really did knock me out of a certain stasis & complacency at the time.

The point of that whole aside is that what your characters’ stasis is – where they are starting from – matters just as much as what knocks them out of that stasis and kicks off your plot. In some ways it matters a great deal more.

To tie this all back to my “live blogging” of the current story: I have been working on Connor’s current stasis. It definitely is not situational as he’s in a dynamic, dangerous place at the beginning.

No, his stasis is personal and emotional. Put simply, Connor is frozen. He’s all but dead emotionally, and has surrendered any desire or hope of there being something better in life, of there being any hope or meaning beyond minute-to-minute survival. Survivor’s guilt – and shame and regret and anger – have overwhelmed him, and he simply no longer cares. That is his stasis, that is where he (and the story) begins.

Remember when I mentioned I am all about character-driven stuff? Yup, this is the kind of thing I was talking about. The plot has to serve the character, not the other way around. Like adversity, the plot simply reveals (or at least should reveal) what is already there…

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