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A Tragic Hero or a Likable Villain

Would you rather be a tragic hero or a likable villain? Aren’t they the same thing? Both are misunderstood, and likely problematic. The difference is that you feel sorry for one, and feel guilty being fond of the other.

I have reasons for doing the things that I do. We can all justify our decisions and rationalize our actions. You can agree or disagree with what a character, or a person, does or doesn’t do. A lot of how they’re received will depend on their attitude. If I’m humble and express regret over what must be done, the hard decisions I am making, you’re going to be more inclined to see me as a tragic hero. If you agree with me, you can see that it takes a toll on me. Even if you disagree, you’ll still know that I did the wrong thing for the right reason.

If I take the exact same actions, make identical decisions, but I’m confident to the point of arrogance about it, you’re going to hate me. Even if you agree with me, you might think I’m an ass. If you disagree with me, you’ll hate me even more because I’m so unapologetic about it. My charisma and likability won’t absolve me of my villain status. My heart reveals me as the bad guy.

A Tragic Hero or a Likable Villain

The one thing a tragic hero and a likable villain have in common is that they’ll both lose in the end. You’ll feel bad either way. Sad for the hero for the tragedy of it. Sad for the villain because you kind of adored them. It really is the same character with a different perspective.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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Coming Up with Character Names

There was a time when I owned an extensive collection of baby name books. Coming up with character names was a time-consuming process. Now I use random name generator websites, which has sped up the process considerably.

For incidental characters, where I might just need a first or last name, I’ll generate 10 or 25 and pick one that feels right. With main characters I will do the same, write down a few that strike me, then generate a few more. Within a few minutes there will be something that I’m satisfied with.

On rare occasions I will want a name that means something specific. That’s where I’ll do more research. When I had the baby name books this was my default process, which is why it took so long. At some point I realized that I was trying to be “deep” and ridiculously pretentious and stopped.

My wife tends to have true crime shows on in the background while she works. She keeps a notebook next to her and writes down the names of the people in the shows. Not the killers, usually, but victims, investigators, witness, and so on. Then she mixes up first and last names, usually across shows.

My final stop is usually Google. I check names to make sure that some famous person I never heard of doesn’t have the name. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’ve picked a first name-last name combination that already belongs to some violent criminal or, even worse, a politician.

Coming Up with Character Names

Okay reader, how do you name your characters? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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Give Your Protagonist Agency

This is something that I need to explain to non-writers. It’s even necessary sometimes to clarify it to “pantsers” who feel that outlining a novel restricts character development. You need to give your protagonist agency. They can’t be shuffled from scene to scene simply because you have a plan that states what’s supposed to happen. Their actions and decisions should stem from who they are, not plot expedience. They need to made bad choices, take wrong actions, and do things for stupid reasons. Human beings are messy and complicated, but that’s what makes them interesting.

Give Your Protagonist Agency

For me, this is what makes writing fun. It’s also what makes it a pain in the ass. The best analogy is a road trip. You know where you’re leaving from, where you need to end up, and roughly when you need to arrive there. There are fixed stops along the way that you have to hit, for food, fuel, and rest. Everything in between is a free-for-all.

Now granted, a lot of that space is going to be boring driving. It can be filled with scenery and conversation. There can also be detours. You see something unexpected that looks interesting, and decide to stop. There’s a lot of potential for fun and excitement. It can make the trip better. There’s also the potential that it will throw everything off schedule.

You need to allow the story to unfold as you write it. The characters need to do what the characters are going to do. That’s the joyful and creative part of being a writer. At some point, though, you need to get them back on the road. They have to get to the next plot milestone, and you now have to make it feel natural and not forced. This is the hard part. Writing would be easier if you didn’t allow your characters to have agency, but it makes for a terrible story.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!

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What Came First: the Plot, the Character, or Something Else

The dirty secret of my current work-in-progress is that I’m still trying to find the plot. What came first was the main character. She has goals she wants to achieve, problems that she’s trying to fix, and a lot of room for personal growth. As I continue to get a handle on who she is, I work out the obstacles that she needs to face in order to get where she wants to be. That also means that further complications arise to hold her back.

It’s a messy way to write. I’ve never written anything this way before. The whole thing is experimental for me, and I’m actually enjoying it. As I go along I’m finding the beats, and in the second draft I will need to add things for continuity. Scenes will need to be moved around so it flows better as a story and makes sense. Yet I still don’t have a cohesive through line. She’s just wandering around from scene to scene, event to event, trying to make sense of things.

Hopefully hindsight will be 20/20 as it is in real life, and by the end of the first draft I’ll understand how this all fits together. It would be easier if I began with the plot first. In my current writing niche, the way of things is to create the story and then drop the characters into it to see how they react. I made a conscious decision not to do that with this novel.

What Came First: the Plot, the Character, or Something Else

Okay reader, how do you plan your novel? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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Introducing Your Protagonist: A Mystery to Be Solved

For the book I’m writing, and forgive me if I’m short on details, because I’m still discovering them for myself, I wanted my main character to have a low-key introduction. It wasn’t going to be a dramatic reveal. There are a group of characters having a conversation, with the protagonist being one of them. I want it to be a slow burn as the reader gets to like this person, and realizes they’re the focus of the book. By that point the reader should want to keep following them around through the story. I know that’s an incredibly difficult way of introducing your protagonist, but I’m determined to make it work.

Introducing Your Protagonist

Like the opening scene, the first appearance of the protagonist should draw the reader in. As with my opinion on opening scenes, that has to be the beginning and not the end. I don’t want the reader to drop out after 50 or 100 pages. You need to draw them in deeper with every scene. I think that my main character’s first appearance has to set an expectation. The character is a mystery to be solved, and people will want to keep reading as they learn more about them.


Progress Report: Day 5

  • Today is day 5 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 793 words, bringing the total to 4,577.
  • That puts me 2,177 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 word per day.
  • I’m currently working on the second scene of the first act, establishing the setting and introducing an important supporting character.

Notes

  • I am starting to get a comfort level with both this online journal and the novel. This is why I didn’t do this as a NaNoWriMo project. As with my day job, deadline-driven work, it goes by so quickly. I don’t feel like I have the time to build an attachment. I have to be able to process things on a deeper level.
  • Long-range goals: Today is #PitMad. I am putting a stick in the ground and setting a soft goal to have a complete, polished manuscript and a solid 280-character pitch ready for next December’s event.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!