Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 3, 2014

Picking the Best Protagonist for Your Story

DSCN9734 - resizedMy family has gone to the Devon Horse Show for many years. It started when my great-grandmother would take us, and later my mother and I would go and sit for an entire evening and watch the competition. Lately, we have been bringing my daughter, and we’ve found we don’t get to see much of the horses—more of the rides and Fair.

This made me realize how different people experience the same setting or the same event. Viewing the horse show from the point of view (POV) of a rider is different than from an owner’s POV. Watching it from the elite boxes is different from sitting on the free benches along the ringside. Spending the day in the mid-price bleachers is different than chasing your child around the Midway for several hours.

When we write, it is important to choose our point-of-view character or characters wisely. What side of the story do you want to tell? Who is the best character to tell that story? The rider coming back from a devastating injury or the mom whose daughter’s ball just bounced into the competition ring (yes, that was me)? Which POV you choose will vastly change the tone, feel, and experience of the story.

DSCN9751 - resized

Sometimes our characters come to us first, and they already have a story to tell. Therefore, their POV is the natural one to use. However, if you have a plot idea, think very carefully about who tells the story. Or do you need multiple POVs to get everything across? And if you are free to choose whoever you want as a POV character, think creatively. Maybe it’s not the obvious people, like the rider or the spectator, who will make the best POV. Maybe it’s the judge or the video person or the camera person. Maybe it’s the guy who runs the Midway at the Fair. Maybe it’s the ticket taker. When you have the luxury of choosing your protagonist, pick one who is fun and unexpected.

So, when you write, keep in mind that everyone’s experience of an event is different. Everyone’s truth about what they witnessed is different. Play with that and use it to your best advantage. When you pick a protagonist, make it count. It may be the difference between a ho-hum “been-there-done-that” read and a unique, gripping story.

How about you? Which comes first, the character or the plot?

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