Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Useful Trait for a Protagonist

aliceOne thing that I really don’t think I  am, is curious.

I like observing people.  I like imagining reasons that they do the things they do or say the things they say—but I’m not curious to find out the real reasons that motivate them.  I’m no investigator.  I’m nosy enough to watch people and listen in on their conversations—but more interested in coming up with my own conclusions than whatever the truth might be.

But there are curious people out there.

My house was way too distracting for me to write in on Thursday, so I escaped to the coffeehouse to get some work done.  I really just needed a solid 30 minutes of writing and then I was going to call it a day.

I knew exactly what I was going to write, too.  This meant that I wasn’t staring around into space a lot.  I ordered my coffee (I was at Starbucks, and I stubbornly asked for “a small coffee,” since I don’t like all the ‘grande’ stuff they put up on their menu), sat down and started writing.

I had my Word document open and my outline printed out and on the table so that I could follow it—no, I don’t ordinarily outline….but it’s a new project with an editor who requires them.

I worked hard for 30 minutes straight.  I drank my coffee, I glanced up briefly when cold air hit me as the door to Starbucks opened and closed, but I got my work done in a very focused, concentrated way.

When I  reached the end of my writing session, I sat up straight and reached up to close my laptop.  And darned if there wasn’t some woman there, standing in the very long coffee line, reading my synopsis/outline for the book! Yes, I’d printed it in a slightly larger font than usual because I’m getting to the point of needing reading glasses, but I’m not wanting the bother of them.

She opened her mouth for a second like she thought she might ask me a question, then quickly turned her back to continue waiting in the line.

Curiosity killed the cat, I thought, sourly.  Maybe it did, but I started thinking about what  an important trait it is for a protagonist.

Because a protagonist shouldn’t be like me—content not to know the full story behind something.

Main characters need to get to the bottom of a problem.  They need to want to learn the murderer’s identity.  They need to want to discover the cure for the mysterious infection that’s turning the population into zombies.  They need to want to learn how to win the heart of the person they’ve fallen in love with.  They need to want to figure out where the next horcrux is so that disaster can be averted. They can’t be content to take a backseat while someone else with a curious mind, bravery, and determination runs off to save the world. 

Their curiosity can create  conflict for them, too.  In a murder mystery, it can scare the killer enough for him to try to murder the sleuth.  It can make put the protagonist in an office building after closing hours, rifling through someone’s desk for evidence that an important government official is involved in illegal activity. It can put a protagonist on the wrong side of town at the wrong time of day in an attempt to get information.

But it’s a crucial trait that helps drive the story.  How curious is your protagonist—and what are they trying to find out?