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As Safe As Kittens

August 23, 2012

Hi everyone. Today I’m going to talk a little about safety. As you can see in the title Kittens may also figure prominently in this post. We just adopted a kitten from the neighborhood and brought him into our home. Last night as he flopped over onto his side and laid his head down for a nap, I had to reflect on how his life changed dramatically. He went from homeless, in the woods, without shelter, a steady diet, exposure and the threat of predators to well fed, roof overhead, folks to take care of him and well honestly a sulking housemate in the form of our other cat.

For writing, I ask myself all of the time: What is going to happen to the Protagonist? Is he going to make it through unscathed? Will there be some kind of loss? Am I obligated to keep them safe?

I think the first obligation of a writer is to tell the story. To that end, no, the protagonist does not have guaranteed safety *as long as it reasonably drives the plot* Lots of times a sidekick gets it, by ‘it’ I mean mauled, killed, trapped, picture some kind of jeopardy and now place the sidekick in it. This keeps the protagonist safe, as the sidekick becomes the proxy. They also become a focal point for the protagonist. This is one way of keeping the protagonist safe, while giving them something to strive for. The sidekick takes the hit and in turn motivates the protagonist.

 I suspect it is more thrilling if the reader is unsure of whether or not the protagonist is going to make it through the next chapter. Of course the issue is raised here: If the protagonist meets a sticky fate, how then will the story be complete? The Hunger Games raised this. I started reading the book late, just before the movie was released (and honestly haven’t finished it yet.) I know that the protagonist lives, by virtue of the fact that there are two additional books and everything the movie put out. Suppose though, that I had read the book upon its initial release. With no promise of a movie or sequel book? I feel that my reading of the book would have been more exciting, a greater emotional response, not knowing what lay ahead (sequels…)

Good protagonists (as in well written) I think should catch more than their fair share of damage. They should not have some writer induced magical shield protecting them from every little boo-boo or massive injury. They should suffer trials and tribulations because it is more realistic, more engaging and offers a better opportunity for the protagonist to grow in different directions. Look at Ignatius, I gave him a physical handicap as well as an addiction. Two items that are commonplace. But how he copes with them allow me chances to stretch him in different ways. Make him think outside of the virtual box. Make the reader want to turn that page to see if he succumbs to the call of an opiate or not.

In reality we desire to be like the kitten mentioned at the start. Safe, warm, fed and cared for. I believe the colloquialism for it is: as safe as houses. Or Kittens. Therefore when we read (or write) it is the chance to explore safely, that which could be unsafe. We wish to soar with our heroes and heroines. We enjoy the tale as our protagonist struggles to the end of it.

Tell me, what do you think?

Thanks for reading today!



From → Writing

  1. loved the way you began with a meow story. :)
    i agree with you about a protagonist having a fair share of handicaps or Ignatius and that is what makes them real and closer to readers .
    what i like about your writing is that you weave a story tight and yet give the space and time to readers to imagine what could have happened or what is going to come up…

    • Thank you for your response. I try to balance out over-indulging in description and too little. I think I may have hit a good balance in Ignatius’s stories. As for the Meow, could not help myself!

  2. Susie sent me!

    Adore the meow tale!

    Great post and so very true. I find my protagonists move further away from their goals the more they strive to achieve them and that keeps the story moving forward. It keeps them real in the mind of the reader if they have valid emotional conflicts too. Torturing them is good – that’s the great thing about being a writer – we can do what we like.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I agree, being able to manipulate a world and the characters within it is great fun. I think keeping the protagonist unabalanced certainly adds to the atmosphere/drama of a story. I certainly do not want mine to think they are safe at any given point, or if they do, pull the rug out from underneath. It simulates how life actually goes (at least in my own experience.)

  3. I LOVE this and am going to change a scene in my book because of it. Thanks SF!
    And thanks for joining in the fun today! I hope you stop back to meet lots of new blogging friends at the party by clicking on their links!

    • I am flattered. Glad you found it useful. I plan on dropping by again today for more dance party action!

  4. I like this perspective…never thought of it that way. I stopped by as part of Susie’s virtual blog party, it was lovely to “meet” you! :)

    • Glad you stopped over. It’s always nice when Susie throws one of her bashes. Lots of great people to meet!

  5. I am jazzed by this post and that I found you from Susie Lindau! Protags should get most of the damage in my opinion, they just have to stay alive to stay interesting (unless you write vampire stuff)

    • Exactly. It gets boring if they (the protagonist) don’t get smudged up. And it does not necessarily have to be physical. I may not have made that point. The antagonist should try everything in their power to defeat the protag. Even if all they have left is the old stand-by: “Your mother wears combat boots!” Ahhh, ba-zing!

      • Agreed! My characters take some abuse from all angles physical and metaphysical…no one would watch shows or read books if this was not the case :-)

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