INTERVIEWING YOUR PROTAGONIST
“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” – William Faulkner This week in workshop, I asked you to step into your protagonist’s mind for a little while and answer some questions out loud. Why did I subject you to such a strange interview? Because your protagonist is your story. A plot chart might look like a roller coaster, but only your protagonist can ride it. Her desires, her fears, her memories, and habits, and prejudices are the track. In fact, everything that happens, every setting, every piece of dialogue spoken or heard, every word you write, is driven by your protagonist. So, if you want to write, you must know your protagonist. Don’t worry if you begin with some hazy spots. This is an on-going process, and your protagonist will evolve as you write. Also: Watch out for “nice guys.” Innocent people who make good choices are not very interesting to read about. Everyone has faults and everyone makes mistakes; in fact, you will make your protagonist more likable if he’s not perfect. Keep your protagonist active in the story. It’s tempting to protect your protagonist from the fray, by watching the action unfold from the sidelines, but that’s not where you want her to be. Keep your protagonist trying and doing, perhaps failing miserably, but still actively pursuing her goal. Think about your protagonist’s inner conflict and outer conflict. As we have discussed before, most protagonists have at least two conflicts going on at the same time: the inner, emotional, psychological conflict and the outer, concrete, worldly conflict. Keep your eyes on both. Don’t keep secrets from the reader. As soon as your protagonist thinks something, let the reader hear it too. Otherwise you’ll be breaking the sacred vows of point-of-view, and annoying your reader in the process. So, your homework this week is to write a new scene and let your protagonist drive your writing. It’s a terrific feeling, believe it or not. Instead of asking, “What does my plot say?” or “What makes sense?” or “What do I need to write?”, think about your protagonist and simply ask, “What happens now?” Best, Kate P.S. Feel like answering some more questions about your protagonist? Here is a list of 35 questions to ask your protagonist, by Marcel Proust.