Three Dirty Birds Talking about Protagonists and the Kick-Ass Writer


Three Dirty Birds are chirping about Chuck Wendig’s Kick-Ass Writer and what he says about Protagonists.

Kate: It was funny. I was watching Curse of the Black Pearl yesterday with the writers’ commentary turned on, and they were talking about how Elizabeth was the protagonist, because everything that happened was because of choices she made. Then I read Chuck and thought, “Oh, yeah.”

Zoe: I’m having a who’s-the-protagonist thing going on with my WIP. It’s two storylines that eventually converge, and I’m starting to realize that the main character of the second storyline–a late-comer storyline, in fact (I had a whole draft of the novel written before I came up with the second storyline)–is actually making more choices, driving the plot more.

Kate: I’m working keeping the balance between my two boys, so that they’re both pushing toward the inevitable climax. 😀

Ana: With the the novella I’m writing right now I’m never really sure who my main main character is. Usually I have one protagonist who’s a little more ‘main character-y’ than the other one. This is the first time their positions keep changing in my head.

Zoe: So, what you’re saying is they’re switches. 😉

Ana: Pretty much! Though neither of them has tried to establish sexual dominance yet.

Kate: That’ll come.

Oh dear, I have the worst case of double entendres today.

Zoe: Ha.

Ana: What I found interesting in this chapter was Chuck’s comment about how it was harder to pull off an unlikeable female character than a male one. Made me wonder, but he’s probably right.

Zoe: I think he is.

Kate: I can totally see that being true. I haven’t really tried it yet, but I have a character that will be less than sweet, simply because she’s very competent and wastes no time on explanations or softening commentary. But I know I’m going to have to walk a very fine line with her.

Zoe: To make it worse, you also get shit if you make your female character too likeable.

Ana: One thing I remember that annoyed me about the Walking Dead fandom was everyone harping on Lori for sleeping with horrible-dude-whose-name-I-forgot, but nobody blamed the dude for sleeping with his best friend’s widow shortly after said friend’s death. (Not that I liked either character much… but I found the fandom reaction kind of scary. It didn’t matter what she did, it was wrong.)

Zoe: Or how Walt’s wife, Skylar, in Breaking Bad was so universally hated…and she was just, really, a typical person.

Kate: I think we’re treading on cultural issues here, and how females displaying characteristics that are typically considered male are hounded for impinging on male territory.

Zoe: Now, actually, that brings up a good point. Because Gemma from Sons of Anarchy is generally well liked by fans (not all, but significantly more than, say, Skylar White or Lori Grimes).

Kate: True, but she’s occasionally put in her place by one of the men, she gives off a decent vibe of being dependent on them, and generally, no matter how tricksy she is, she still bows to their commands.

Zoe: Most importantly, I think, is that she backs whatever the main guy—Clay, then Jax—is going after. Unlike Skylar, who was against Walt’s drug business, and then against the way he handled it, and Lori, who, well, cheated on Rick (WHEN SHE THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD).

Ana: I love how, when she was nice to horrible-dude-whose-name-I-forgot, she was leading him on. When she clearly told him ‘no,’ she was being a horrible person. Of course the poor dude went off the rails.
Kate: Maybe that was the difference–the perception of loyalty. I got the impression, from the way Lori’s character was written after Rick came back, that she felt guilty about hooking up with…Sean?. And the audience picked up on that. In a flock of ducks, if one is injured or less capable, the other ducks will often attack it, and harass it, for no other reason than that it’s displayed some sort of weakness. And the same thing happens in groups of humans. So I wonder if that wasn’t it.

Ana: I’m just wondering if a male character would have evoked the same reaction. I’m trying to think of weak male characters but all that comes to mind are the Winchester brothers and their perfect manly tears of man pain.

Zoe: Speaking of man pain…I liked the “Discover the sadness” tip. I like finding that in stories I’m reading, and especially in the ones I’m writing.

Ana: It’s quite often what motivates me to write a story.

Kate: That little bit of loneliness, or feeling like they don’t belong. Yeah, that’s an important one. I liked his caution about turning your character into a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu (though I’ve always called him Marty Stu).

Ana:I always called him Gary, which reminds me of the rival in the Pokemon anime, who got ten badges even though you can only get eight…( because relevant)

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: He also brings up a good point in that something in your character’s (or characters’) make-up has to reach across the abyss between story and audience, so that they can identify with the character enough to be willing to follow him (her them) through the story.

Kate: I’ve always thought that was the basis of the ‘Write What You Know’ advice. Write the emotional experience you know well, that you’ve gone through, and no matter what the actual plot is, it will resonate with the reader, who will likely have experienced that same emotion in some different way.

Ana: Yup, it’s all about hitting them right in the feels.

Zoe: That’s what novels really are, aren’t they? Little pillboxes with emotion inside.

Kate: So, protagonists? Anything else that stuck out in this chapter?

Ana:Just in tip 15 he mentions knowing your protagonist and building their history from there instead of the other way around. That’s what I usually do, but I couldn’t name it before. It’s like I know certain facts about my characters, and then I try to figure out how they developed those habits which teaches me their history.

Zoe: It seems much more efficient that way. Then you only need to figure out the pertinent parts of their histories, instead of what they ate for breakfast at age 9 (if that’s not going to be pertinent). This is what I usually do too. “Character behaves this way. Why? What in his background explains that tendency?”

Ana: It’s kind of fun, isn’t it? I also liked how he mentioned in tip 17 that the antagonist doesn’t have to be another character but can also just be some sort of antagonistic force. An obstacle. Whatever.

Zoe: I want Kate to include a tornado of biting squirrels in a story.
Kate: That’s the third weresquirrel epic. I’m glad to hear the whole ‘working backwards from your character’ thing isn’t just an artifact of my weird workflow. I was always worried I was doing it wrong. Tip #8 fits into this too, where he talks about know who your character is, what they want, what conflicts and fears come into play. I tell my daughter all the time that what’s interesting about a character isn’t what they can do, but what they can’t.

I didn’t find much in this chapter that was new to me, though there are always a few old favourites I love to see and coo over. It felt to me like it had been stretched out over the chapter, when it could have been handled in a couple of pages. What do you other birds think?

Ana: I’m skimming a lot because it can’t hold my attention. I guess there isn’t enough there that’s new to make me want to read so many pages and the humor kind of wears off after a while.

Zoe: The format makes it a little tedious. First, there’s the conceit of “25 things,” so he’s going to come up with 25 every chapter, no matter what, and then the fact that it’s essentially a list means there’s no flow from one point to another. They’re all little islands, floating near each other.

Side Note: During off-blog discussions, we’ve decided that this will be the last week for Chuck, as we aren’t enjoying this book the way we enjoyed the other two. It’s possible that it’s just the format, or maybe the things we are looking for are not in this book. So, next week, you can look forward to James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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