Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Protagonist’s Self-Discoveries

Lost in Thought--Henri Caro-Delvaille (1876-1926) My husband and I had a rare night with no kids last weekend…our son was camping and our daughter was spending the night with a friend. We didn’t exactly know what to do with ourselves with no kids, so we decided to go to the movies and see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

The 7:00 movie was full, so we bought tickets online for the 9:40 show. It was in 3-D (and it was a Saturday night), so we wanted to go early and get a good seat.

I encouraged my husband to take a book with him so he could read while he waited and I’d take a notebook.

“We’ll look like geeks,” he said.

I completely acknowledged that fact. But then, I’ve always been a nerd.

We arrived at the theater and found some seats. My husband said, “We’re the oldest people here.”

I said, “No way!” Then I looked around and saw that, yes, we were—by FAR—the oldest people there.

I owned the fact that I was a geek. Being the oldest person in a room? That hadn’t happened very often to me. I was so sensitive to it that when my husband asked (about 5 or 6 times during the movie), “What did she/he say?” and I was hollering in his ear, “She said…” I thought about our age. And the fact that my husband had gone to way too many hearing-damaging live concerts as a teenager.

In my books, my characters are really not on a journey of self-awareness or realization. They do make discoveries about themselves and other characters, but the discoveries are not integral to the main plot—finding out the murderer is.

But I read many books where the protagonist is making self-discoveries that affect the course of his or her life. In fact, the internal conflict these characters face is frequently the major source of conflict in the book.

How does the character react to these self-realizations? And how are we, as readers, kept in the loop as they’re happening?

As a reader, I’ve noticed this self-discovery being revealed through:

Internal monologue—Maybe this is most noticeable in first person POV, but works fine in 3rd, too. I’ll admit to only being patient with internal monologue just so far. If it stretches over too many paragraphs, I usually lose interest until it’s really written well.

The character’s actions—Here the character’s shift in perspective is revealed through his actions and demonstrate his self-discovery. The protagonist finally stands up to his father. The protagonist quits the uninspiring day job. The character joins AA or attacks his problems head-on, or retreats from his problems altogether.

Sidekicks (reacting through dialogue)—Sidekicks can be useful for filling our reader in (in a natural way) on our character’s thoughts and feelings. If our protagonist has a close friend that they confide in, then we can relate our character’s progress of self-discovery to the reader, in the protagonist’s own words, through dialogue.

Do your stories concentrate on a character’s self-discovery? How do you reveal it to the readers?