Favourite Female Protagonist

May 20, 2010 at 5:50 am (Character, fiction) (, , , , , , , )

I love reading books with interesting female protagonists.  Anything other than the basic damsel in distress works for me. Strong, funny, awkward, shy, as long as they feel fresh and unique. What I want to know is who are your favourite female protagonists from books or movies.

So…if you’re interested create a post sharing your favourite female protagonist and then add your link to the list.  Let’s see how many female protagonists we can list.

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5 Things Your Protagonist Probably Shouldn’t Do

May 17, 2010 at 5:50 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Unless, of course, there is a valid reason.

Under most circumstances these are 5 things that protagonists shouldn’t be getting up to.

1.  Waiting for another character to solve all of the problems and hand them a nice tidy package.  I’m not pointing fingers at any single, scarred, boy wizard for this one (in one of his later books), but protagonists should be actively involved in trying to work through the conflicts, not passively sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tag them and say that it is now time for them to get involved.

2.  Getting over things. This one is something I’ve found in quite a few stories that I’ve started reading and then abandoned. Midway through a major conflict the character just get’s over it and decides that something is no longer important.  If your protagonist gives up caring about a problem, odds are the reader is going to as well.

3.  Getting side tracked and never returning to the original complication. Yes, side plots are great but if your protagonist gets tangled up in a side plot to the point where the original problem is left dangling and never resolved then this is going to bother your reader.

4.  Have a personality transplant midstory.  There is a difference between developing a character and throwing out a character midway through the plot and suddenly having a doppelgänger with the same name but no other resemblance to the original character running around.

5.  Drop dead in the second act. By all means, kill your protagonist off if the story calls for it, but if we’ve been following this character so far and now they are dead and there is still almost a third of the story to go, as reader’s we are going to feel resentful.

What do you think?  Is there any thing your protagonist should just not do?

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I have my reasons…

May 14, 2010 at 6:40 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

…and my characters should have their reasons.

It is really quite difficult to like a character, or even respect them, if they have no real reason for their actions.  We may laugh at the cliche of an actor asking what their motivation is, but without it, things become pretty pointless, pretty quickly.

I recently started reading a book (it doesn’t really matter which one). Within two chapters I was incredibly frustrated with the protagonist.  Mostly because they had wandered randomly through rooms and observed really strange things but hadn’t reacted to anything and had just made the decision to leave the building – though why they were there in the first place had yet to be established. The whole time, as a reader, I was wanting the protagonist to turn and figure out why something was in a certain place or doing something.  I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so indifferent to the bizarre surroundings.  I wanted to know what was going on inside their head so that I could figure out whether they were just really composed on the outside but freaking out on the inside.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much further into the story. I made the decision that whether or not the author ever explained what the protagonist was doing and why, I wasn’t going to continue reading it.

This is kind of an extreme case and there is every possibility that within the next chapter all may have been explained.

More commonly we find villains who are bad because, well, the protagonist needed someone in their way.

We find sidekicks who help because… They’re a sidekick.  That’s their job.

We have hench men who hench but have no apparent personality or individual drive for anything and as a consequence fade into obscurity.

And the unforgivable – heroes who are good because they are.

How imporant do you think character motivation is?  Better yet – have you got an example of a protagonist who drove you crazy because they seemed to have no motivation?

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5 Heroic Traits

February 5, 2010 at 5:29 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , )

Okay, heroes come in all shapes and sizes but when we just think the word hero there are certain things we do think of instantly. This is my list of 5 heroic traits (though just because I associate them with heroes does not mean my heroic characters exhibit them):

  1. Totally selfless – this is kind of a nasty one because we all want someone to selflessly help us but people who don’t have a sense of self are kind of boring. It is the selfish nature and little hang-ups a person has that makes them interesting and yet that isn’t what we want from a hero. That must be contrary human nature.
  2. Brave – Should go without saying. You can’t be a hero if you are hiding under the table but brave does not mean fearless. People without fear are unimaginative.
  3. Strong – No point being brave if you can’t do anything. Strong is definitely something we all want our real life heroes to have.
  4. Smart – Maybe not on everybody’s list of heroic traits but it is definitely on mine. I would like to believe that heroes can think their way out of  trouble as easily as into it.
  5. Flawed – Forgetting everything in 1 – 4 a hero has to be flawed in some way. Otherwise they are untouchable and a little unbelievable. There have to be flaws.

What is on your list of heroic traits and how much fun is it to create heroes with few to none of them?

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Old Friends or New

February 1, 2010 at 5:33 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

As many protagonists run through the drama of whatever plot they are trapped in they get help from friends. Mostly because they need it and without those friends the story would come to a screeching halt as the protagonist curls up into a little ball on the floor and cries for three chapters.

I was wondering the other day whether it was more interesting when the protagonist meets new people and becomes friends with them or when the protagonist hooks up with an old friend who helps them.

New friends can certainly be interesting. We get to know this new character with our protagonist and it makes sense when the protagonist asks them questions about them and so we get to find out all sorts of interesting things about the character. We also don’t know if this character is going to betray the protagonist later because they’ve only just met and the protagonist doesn’t know whether they are being lied to or not, they have no earlier encounters to judge them by.

However, that is also the downfall of new friends. There is no natural rapport between the protagonist and this new person and you have to get them to know each other fast if you want to move the story forward. If the protagonist doesn’t ask them certain questions it leaves the reader wondering why not. If you ran into someone in a dungeon you would ask them why they were there even if they were helping you. If that person avoided the question you should certainly have some doubts about them. The other problem with introducing new friends is that some times it just feels too convenient. Oh, the protagonist got themselves caught in a trap. Along comes a helpful person who just wants to see them get on their way. Oh, and they’ll travel with the protagonist because they don’t have any kind of life of their own that is being interrupted by this.

So we look at old friends. Someone the protagonist has known forever. They have a reason to stand by the protagonist and help them out. They have a natural rapport with the protagonist and they can be helpful in revealing past exploits that we may not have otherwise found out about. Old friends can help fill in back story we may not be able to include otherwise and they allow us to see a fuller picture of the protagonist.

Yet old friends come with baggage and issues and they may distract from where you want to the story to go. They may not have the skills needed to actually help the protagonist out. The protagonist may be somewhere they’ve never gone before and running into someone they know would be slightly suspicious. Plus, it is harder to naturally slip in facts about the old friend because the protagonist would feel the need to ask them what they’ve been up to if they spoke to them the day before.

Which do you prefer? Introducing someone new to your protagonist or drawing someone from their past to help them out?

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The Hero’s Journey and Other Things

January 30, 2010 at 5:50 am (Structure, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been thinking about a comment I received to my post on thinking outside the box about the number of fantasy books that do deal with the hero’s journey, either directly or indirectly. Largely these books are epic tales and involve a quest of some sort and our hero goes from naive and weak to brave and wise and strong, usually aided by companions and some form of mentor. And these books are great reads – though the farm boy thing has been done to death at this stage and not every wise mentor has to talk in riddles.

Anyway, I took a look through my collection of fantasy fiction and looked for examples of other stories that I’ve read. Automatically my David Eddings, Traci Harding, Ian Irvine, Terry Brooks collections were put out of mind. Ian Irvine may not deal specifically with the hero’s journey (it is kind of hard to tell at times who the hero of the story is supposed to be) but there are enough similarities that I’m putting it in this category for now. David Eddings earlier works deal with a farm boy who gets lead on a journey to save the world guided by companions and while his later works have some slight variations to the protagonist the basic quest and development remains more or less the same. So, who does that leave me with?

1. Barbara Hambly – Sorcerer’s Ward. I own a few of Hambly’s novels but Sorcerer’s Ward is my favourite. It is kind of a romance/mystery that just happens to involve a Mage as the one trying to solve the murder of her sister (before it happens) who is being thwarted by the witch finders of her world. There is some character development (as there really needs to be for a character to be really good) but Kyra starts out in this book a fairly competent and determined person and the guidance she receives from others is minimal.

2. Camille Bacon-Smith (I hope I got that right I can’t find the book again right now) – Eye of the Daemon. Another more mystery oriented book, mostly because the main characters (one half daemon and two daemons) run a detective agency. Throw in crosses and double crosses, multiple dimensions and the possible end of the world and you have a very interesting story.

3. Terry Pratchett – The Discworld books. For everyone one of these that sends a character on a quest there are at least three that don’t and deal with the every day drama of living in a very strange world.

I found many more examples but the pattern was quite apparent. The big names in epic fantasy do seem to focus on the hero’s journey and I think that is because it is what most of us expect from a fantasy. However there are a lot of sub-genres of fantasy and there are a lot of different stories that can be told. The same is probably true of any genre.

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Thinking Outside The Box

January 29, 2010 at 5:32 am (Planning, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’ve always hated that expression – mostly because it gets me wondering why I was put in the box to begin with. Yet most of the time our thoughts are boxed in and closed off. They follow predictable paths they’ve gone over before, never looking beyond the obvious. I don’t like boxes. I have a thought bubble but it is just as restrictive (though prettier because it shimmers all different colours when exposed to sunlight).

As writers it is important that we recognise our bubbles and boxes. If we were to write only what we know then we would never leave our bubbles. Our stories would also get very samey very quickly and we would hopefully get bored with writing it and move on. Our characters would also be very much for muchness and have similar motivations and moral values and thought processes because their writer and creator didn’t stop to think outside of their comfort zone.

How can we think outside our bubble?

  1. Talk to people – all sort of people and find out what they think about things and why.
  2. Read everything. Doesn’t matter if you are interested in it or not. You may just pick up an idea or two that you had never considered.
  3. Practise empathising. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to really think how they might see the world. Try to put your preconceptions aside and really feel as though you had lived a different life.
  4. Sometimes it helps just  to turn everything upside down. Whatever you think, write the opposite. You can tone it down later but just practise being the complete opposite of yourself. It helps to start you thinking about all the possibilities in-between.

How do you start thinking outside your bubble/box?

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Avatar – The Movie, The Discussion

January 14, 2010 at 5:25 am (Other) (, , , , , , , )

It kind of amazes me the number of blogs I’ve visited just in the last four days that still have Avatar as a major discussion point.  Admittedly, I really loved the movie (flaws and all) but the movie is beside the point. What really is interesting is how much discussion this movie has generated before its release and continues to generate weeks after its release.   Everyone seems to have an opinion and it is ranging from how brilliant and amazing this movie was, how mind blowingly unique and stunning, etc, etc, to how pedestrian the story was and how bland the characters seem, etc, etc.  Love it or hate it, everyone is still talking about it.

Wouldn’t everyone just love that much discussion about their own writing, whether it be good or bad?

The main arguments for Avatar being amazing (that I’ve come across) are:

  • Visually stunning
  • Dramatic
  • Cool action sequences
  • Characters who become beloved by the end of the movie (though that is a very debatable issue)

The main arguments for Avatar being somewhat underwhelming seem to be:

  • The story is not original (though I’d love to ask what movie anyone has seen recently that has had an original story line)
  • There is an over reliance on special effects
  • The characters are flat and uninteresting
  • Neytiri crying (apparently some people found the sound of her grief irritating – I can’t imagine why. I thought everyone loved ear splitting shrieks)

I loved Avatar. I know the story is not particularly original.  There are moments during it where you could almost swear you were watching a more sophisticated version of Fern Gully (particularly when the forest starts lighting up underfoot) and there are no surprises in the plot. The characters are not fantastic. They are archetypes that are barely fleshed out and in many stories that would annoy me but it isn’t a deal breaker with Avatar. Yes, it is visually amazing, and I really want one of those glowy, spinny, lizard things because they are so cute but that wasn’t why I loved it.

I loved Avatar because it is a strong story, well put together.  Each scene and each character serves a very specific purpose and they all work. You are swept up in the story, you follow along, the tension builds, you reach the climax and you are satisfied with the resolution. That to me is a successful story and the visual effects simple support the story and help to make you believe in a world that couldn’t possibly exist.

For me, the worst part of Avatar wasn’t the storyline, it was the slight extension on so many sequences and scenes just so they could show off the visual effects for that little bit longer than necessary. Look at each of the flight sequences.  Every single one could have been shortened (whether they were in helicopters or on the dragon things) without changing the story in any way.

I am now jumping off the Avatar bandwagon. I’ve watched it twice and I’ve read so many discussions about it and now I’ve posted my own thoughts and I am putting it to rest until the DVD comes out. I would however like to know what you think about Avatar and the ongoing debates about the movies ‘greatness’.

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Who Says Stereotypes Are Bad?

November 21, 2009 at 4:45 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , )

Well, I guess most people you talk to will tell you that stereotypes are bad.  Then again, I’m always reminded of a Dilbert comic by Scott Adams where he introduced a new female character.  Scott Adams wrote a note in one of his books that he was later inundated with emails telling him she was too stereotypical.  Now this is a female character who was extremely insecure, cracked under pressure and was personally insulted by anything a male said to her.  I find it odd that people found this character ‘too’ stereotypical.  I don’t know any women like this.  Certainly some share a little of one of her traits, but any person who acts like this character would be nearly impossible to deal with.

It was on reading about this situation Scott Adams found himself in that I realised there was no point in worrying if a character is a stereotype or not.  What one person sees as stereotypical, or ‘generalising’, or type casting, or whatever, can be taken an entirely different way by another.  You’re never going to please everyone so trying to create a totally new character that has no stereotypical attributes is a waste of time and next to impossible.

Instead of worrying about whether my characters are stereotypical I focus on whether they are believable.  I look at whether they are consistent.  I decide whether they are interesting.  These things matter far more than whatever label someone will later smear across them.

That said, stereotypes are good in that they allow you to create a diverse cast.  By creating simple labels (for much more complex and interesting characters) you can ensure that you have diversity and within the characters and that they will interact well (or at least in interesting ways).  Doing this also allows you to see the lack of realism in some of your choices.  A tom-boyish girl is not going to be best friends with the ballerina (unless there is a lot of history that is nicely explained as to the why).

3 things I try to remember:

1.  Stereotypes can give you a good starting point or an easy guide to work with.

2.  If your character never advances beyond a two-dimensional stereotype they are probably going to be boring anyway.

3.  Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they also need to be reimagined to keep originality and interest in a story.

What are your thoughts about stereotypes?

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