When Two Should Become One

Hey, a post about writing! It’s about time, yeah?

I’m halfway through my latest draft of Wolf’s Tail and am dissatisfied. Shocker, I know. Of course the notion that a writer hates his writing in the middle of a book is not unfamiliar to you guys. It comes with the territory.

But my frustration begins with a style I’ve been employing throughout this story. Specifically, I’ve divvied up scenes between two points of view (POV): the protagonist and a “secondary protagonist” through which the antagonist’s actions are viewed and motivations revealed. I did this because, without spoiling too much, this secondary character grows into his protagonist role and contributes to the story in an interesting way (in my own mind, of course).

So what’s the problem with that? My sentence says it all:

“…the antagonist’s actions…”

…meaning that the antagonist is the active character and my POV character has become a simple window. Sure, he’ll pop in some dialog here and there, but the guy grimaces and nods so much that other characters are beginning to wonder if he’s a puppet whose lost his strings. His scenes have been limper than a soggy hot dog and I think this is why.

Activity breathes life into a scene. Inactivity is a pretty vignette at best and a bunch of useless words at worst. Too much of either increases the chance of a book ending up in the reader’s trashcan.

This brought a couple of solutions to mind:

  1. I can find a way to make this secondary protagonist more active by giving him interesting goals, but I still need to make sure I properly represent the antagonist.
  2. I can slap the secondary protagonist’s good traits onto the antagonist, making the “bad guy” more sympathetic and turning him into a POV character.

Have any of you run into a situation like this before? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

-Phillip

0 thoughts on “When Two Should Become One”

  1. In my second novel, the antagonist plays such a pivotal role that I made him a POV character. I wanted the reader to get a feel for why he does the things he does. With my first novel and the one I’m working on now, I’m keeping the antagonist more distant, just bringing him out periodically to keep him visible but not having him play such a large role that I worry he’s becoming too much like a puppet. That doesn’t really answer your question, but I just thought I’d share my own experience. I guess if you’re feeling constrained with the storytelling, you might need to give him some POV scenes.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Carrie. I think you’re right about giving the “bad guy” some POV scenes. I’m going to try out a few on him and see how they work out. That’ll probably help me figure out which way to go!

      On Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 2:41 PM, Phillip McCollum wrote:

      >

  2. Hmm, tricky stuff. It’s hard to know how your two-protagonist approach reads without seeing a little bit, but I’m inclined to ask what the secondary protagonist adds, considering the protagonist already has POV duties. Only you know the value of that, but your frustration sort of indicates it’s not working the way you hoped it would.

    Does one POV seem to want to take the reins and control things? If so, that might be a signal to pay attention to!

    1. Thanks Kevin! The antagonist is by far the more interesting character, in my eyes. He’s always wants to be the focus of the secondary protag’s scenes.

      Through this post and the comments, I think I’ve discovered that I’ve just taken what should be the antagonist’s good traits and slapped them on a warm body… I’ll run through some scenes with the antagonist POV and see how it works out. Appreciate the advice!

  3. Had similar concerns with my first book early on. Two POV protagonists, both of whom were ‘being done to’ making them seem victims of the story rather than driving it forward. One kidnapped by someone far more vocal and (apparently) interesting than them, the other dragged along out of their comfort zone on a hunt for the kidnapee.

    Took me a while, but I figured out I simply had to give them some balls. Not straight out resistance (because that wouldn’t fit their position at that time in the story), but to start to get them to react realistically to the situation. One started to challenge the actions of those around him, over time showing that he didn’t want to be a puppet and that he did indeed have some steel in his soul. The other started to enjoy the situation she was in, yet felt guilty about that, hopefully offering a level of empathy that I want the reader to feel. Basically I got inside their head and tried to see it from their point of view – were they happy with what was happening to them? Why were they just going along with things? What was actually going on in their heads as they were being stomped all over? Didn’t change things drastically at the start but started to layer in the fact that they weren’t happy with how they were being treated and I found they seemed to respond slightly. Over time then they could evolve into a more active role.

    At least, that’s the plan 😉

    1. I think you’re definitely on to something when it comes to giving the characters some balls. I guess my protags have been a couple of wimps when I really look at them. Good advice! I shall take heed and reevaluate their scenes! Thanks Mobe. 🙂

  4. When I first tried rewriting my novel, something I realized was my original protagonist was not the character with the most at stake. I kept trying to force the story from the wrong POV, but it took me a while to realize that was the problem. Maybe that’s something you should ask yourself – who has the most at stake here? I’d echo what John said above – dueling protags may end up watering down both characters and the plot itself (sounds like that may already be an issue). Antagonists can be fun for readers to follow. Did you read Carrie’s excerpt of Eating Bull when it was available online for the Amazon contest? Getting in her antagonist’s mind was both gut-wrenching and fascinating, but really memorable. Maybe your antagonist deserves to have the story told from his POV. Writing a few scenes could be an enjoyable exercise that could also open your mind to the possibilities. Good luck, Phillip. Keep your readers posted on what you decide to do. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the excellent comment Gwen! It appears others are suggesting the same thing, so I’ve already begun a POV scene with the antagonist. So far, it’s a lot more interesting though I’ll have to tweak some plot events. But whatever is best for the story, I guess I shouldn’t fight it. 🙂

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