Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Guest Post: Heather Domin on Offbeat Protagonists

See the intro post for more information on this blog series!

Julie, Rima, and I have written three very different novels, but they share one common trait: they cut across genre formulas and aren't easy to label or categorize. This makes them difficult to market by traditional means, but it also makes for stories that readers respond to with enthusiasm. The same is true for the characters who embody them; an unusual story requires an unusual protagonist, one who might be difficult to pigeonhole but to whom readers will gravitate. Julie's wonderful Jonas in The Pilgrim Glass comes to mind – not a standard hero in the romantic sense, Jonas is reluctant, skeptical, cynical, and far from a paragon of virtue; but rather than finding him unlikeable or unsympathetic, readers take to him readily as a symbol of their own rough sides. Julie could have made him fit more smoothly into the standard protagonist mold, but that would have worn off all the bits that make him so endearing. As an offbeat protagonist, he's something special.

In The Soldier of Raetia, Dardanus and Valerian fit more easily into standard roles – Valerian as Byronic hero, Dardanus as coming-of-age idealist. But as one of the protagonists, Dardanus embodies some of the hard-to-categorize qualities of the novel itself.

Is he a warrior starting the hero's journey? Is he one half of a romance novel? Is he just a catalyst for Valerian? Some readers enjoy his soldier's story but are turned off by his amorous discoveries; some enjoy his love story but not the graphic battles and military philosophizing. Romance or adventure? The book is both, and so is Dardanus as a protagonist. Personally I think they are two great tastes that taste great together, but then I eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, so I realize my tastes aren't universal.

I am fond of tropes and archetypes in characters – they are the familiar ingredients by which we explore a story and, through that story, ourselves. It's what we do with these ingredients as writers that makes a novel special. Sometimes you want the comfort food of the expected and familiar, but there's something to be said for combining your ingredients in unexpected or unusual ways, like an eclectic fusion cuisine. The result might not be easy to label, but it's often the most delicious.


Now I'm all verklempt :)

Check out what Rima Jean has to say in Heather's journal and check out my take in Rima's blog! Next week? Director's Commentaries!

Don't forget: commenters on all three blogs during this series are eligible to be entered in a drawing for our books in March!

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