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Author Topic: Main Character who doesn't affect plot?
discipuli
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I want to write a novel about a huge , world encompassing plot , but my main character is just there to show how the changes affect people , he isn't at the heart of the problem effecting the change as the Wiggins were... Has this been done before and is it a bad thing?
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Ray
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What's going to be the draw to your main character? If you really just want him watching events instead of participating, you'll need to give us some reason to care about him. What's his conflict? It can be internal or external, but give him something else to worry about while the rest of the world tilts. Especially why he's interested in the huge plot if he's not going to do anything about it.
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discipuli
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he has alot of internal conflict , finding meaning in his life , his conflicts mirror the global conflict in a sense but he doesnt' take an active part in it. I wanted to use him to show you how the changes in technology and society affected the average man, if the piece focused on the president or someone influential , he won't exactly have to use a futuristic public transport system would he?
I want to introduce some irony in that , this guy understands alot of what is going on , but can't do anything . The few characters whom i introduce that do influence what is going on don't appreciate the full depth of their actions until much later. I guess i'm trying to make a boring everyday life interesting .

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ChrisOwens
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From my understanding, this could be problematic depending on how it's handled and perhaps the genre.

For instance, in SF&F, a story that's about a worldwide scheme, where the main character doesn't/can't do anything, would be called a passive character--a death nail to any story of that genre because the main character MUST drive the plot.

However, if the plot doesn't revolve around these worldwide events, but around the main character, then the story would work. The events can influence the main character's life, but the focus is on his realm of influence, and how he struggles and shapes the story in his realm. He can try and fail--but the main character must put up a fight. And even if he loses in the end, he should be granted to win some small victories along the way, where he wins a battle or so, but not the war. Otherwise there's no story.

A good example of this is the movie Signs. It was the classic alien invasion plot, a worldwide event, but it focused on the impact on one particular family. However, that family didn't sit around and do nothing, they put up a struggle and came off victorious in thier realm of influence. And thier stuggle for survival tied back to the struggles they had as a family before the invasion and it changed them in a profound way.


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franc li
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I'd say it describes a number of historical novels, including War and Peace and Gone with the Wind. The author uses the convulsions of history as the Maguffin about which the characters care. I'm not so sure if it would work for a speculative world. I mean, it could be made to work. I guess a Milieau type story might work like that. But even Arthur Dent could not cower in insignificance forever.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited December 11, 2006).]


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pixydust
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Yes, but Gone With the Wind had an MC that was extremely strong and was the center of the story because of who she was. If you're planning on writing a story about something that happened than make the MC be a part of what happened, effected by what happened, but "what happened" needs to be secondary. People want to care about people--not events.
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wbriggs
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According to OSC: bad thing. MC must be someone who takes action. (POV character need to be MC; consider Holmes & Watson.)

However, the action may be things going on in this man's life, because of global changes offscreen.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited December 11, 2006).]


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autumnmuse
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Forrest Gump, anyone? While ostensibly about him, it's far more about America and the growth of a country over half a century. And he doesn't change very much, while the characters around him do. So, it can be done, but it has to be done well.

It sounds like this could be more of a milieu story than a character story. If the world and events are super compelling, and there is enough going on apart from the character, the reader might forgive that your mc doesn't affect the plot too much. However, I'd make very very certain that you are in fact choosing the correct mc, and you know your reasons for doing so.


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wetwilly
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My first reaction was, "Sounds like a bad idea." It's only a bad idea if you can't make it work, though, I guess. You can do anything you want with your story if you can make it work.
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discipuli
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I guess i phrased it badly... Yea my main character does have battles and victories , but in a humane sense that anyone can achieve , i guess you can parallel it with Signs in a way . Thanks for your input...
I'v decided i need several characters to illustrate the world properly, a soldier invovled in the conflict at the frontlines (and of course , to give action , few people want to read about a working class man who can't get sex) , and someone from the upper class who does something that catalyzes world change.
They have no relation to each other directly ,it defies the general style of writing , but i guess i want to do it anyway.

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pixydust
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Beware of breaking the rules before you know what they all are, and can follow them well.
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franc li
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You might do well to read the epilogue of War and Peace which discusses whether the actions of individuals ever really shape world-changing events. Did Napoleon conquer Europe, or did the greediest bastard rise to the top when Europe was ripe with corruption? (Only to be stopped by the Russian winter, of course.) Who toppled the U.S.S.R., Reagan, Bin Laden, or the imperfection of their adherence to communism?
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wetwilly
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quote:
few people want to read about a working class man who can't get sex

I wouldn't mind reading that, actually. There are plenty of books about tough soldiers who get plenty of sex. Those aren't necessarily the interesting characters. A working class man who can't get sex sounds like a much more interesting read to me.

Actually, have you ever read "Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz? Your description is actually an exact description of the main character of the book, and that book was really good.


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Survivor
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To be fair, Odd could have gotten sex anytime. He just happened to have a girlfriend who wanted to wait for marriage, which was okay with him because she was a very nice lass.

Also to be fair, I got about halfway through the book before I decided that, however charmingly odd Odd might be, he had the intellect of a boiled potato. I can't stand stories in which the protagonist does things that are beyond a certain limit of stupidity. Particularly when I know that the writer will bail them out eventually. One of the downfalls of first person, that. You start out knowing that no matter how stupid the POV acts, survival is assured.

Anyway, I love School Rumble. I don't know if Harima Kenji can be called "working class", that seems like a better description of Suoh Mikoto (whom I also love). Harima Kenji is more of a borderline homeless punk (who not only doesn't acknowledge, but doesn't even notice girl's feelings, especially Tenma's feelings, which are not about him). The thing is, despite being a world-class grade-A moron, he's a genuinely nice guy, even when he's doing something completely unforgivable. Which is important, because he does a lot of things which can't realistically be forgiven. I don't even know where to start.

The thing is, he knows just how dumb he is, and he really tries his hardest to do better. The fact that he's so dumb that his efforts usually make things worse is part of his heroic charm, because no matter how bad things get, he never gives up. Okay, he gives up a couple of times, but only in the sense of radically rethinking a failed strategy, not in his overall quest to become a man worthy of Tenma. Even if it means letting her go.

Luckily for us, he always ends up abandoning the "letting her go" strategies, partly because they never work any better than his other plans


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discipuli
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Working class men who can't get sex are archetypes that are underused i think, thats why i want to go with him . But i'd still need a fair amount of action and a little romance to appeal to a wider market, plus a large part of the plot involves a war caused by a marriage .
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ChrisOwens
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Something to be careful with too.

Vent warning... Sometimes it becomes TMI. Do I really need to peek into somebody else's bedroom? Or even have a numbers on somebodies 'love' life like it's a sports stat? I want the characters I read about to retain a certain amount of privacy, otherwise it becomes voyeuristic.

I like how Robert Jordan cuts away. Rand or Matt might make certain choices I would not make, but Jordan doesn't drag me through it. Like Simmons did in the scene between Zeus and Hera in Olympus. For what purpose did he do that? Was that scene necessary? How? At best, it was comedic, almost a parody, or a joke on the reader.

Then again, a few weeks ago, I had to get up during a reading of The Song Of Solomon, run outside, and laugh like I was ten years old. I know, some have no problem. Like OSC, who reads Maxim, who I believe said watches certain "sanitized" erotica with his wife. But sometimes enough's enough. Hasn't it be sooo done already? Cliche? Can't we move on?


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Survivor
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No, Song of Solomon is genuinely funny, particularly in its full historical context.

I don't know that it has anything to do with the current conversation, though.


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franc li
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quote:
I believe said watches certain "sanitized" erotica...

What the? Is that your terminology or his?

My sister stopped using yahoo mail because she believe a lot of the ads showed naked ladies. I guess the other day there was a read end covered by what looked like some kind of clinical privacy cover, like might be used at a depilatory salon. I think it's the first time I would have agreed with her.

I used to have OCD so bad, I was wondering if Larry the Cucumber was really just a cucumber.


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Survivor
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I have to say that I've seen at least a few "ladies" who would have looked less skanky if they'd simply been naked. But maybe those were on Hotmail rather than Yahoo.

And wondering if Larry the Cucumber is really just a cucumber isn't OCD


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ChrisOwens
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I don't think I want to know what y'all are talking about...

'Sanitized Erotica' was my terminology...

The closet thing I could find is:
http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/print_friendly.cgi?page=/osc/reviews/everything/2004-09-05.shtml

The last section in the article he reviews what is basically soft porn mags. The other bit about the movies I can't find at the moment, perhaps it's a misremembered shadow of a garbled recollection.


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Survivor
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Oh.

Well, Card doesn't read Maxim, though he has read it, which is more than I can say.

I'm simply talking about pictures where the skimpy clothing is so cheap and ugly that the woman would look more dignified by not wearing anything. After all, most ladies are naked pretty often, even if they generally choose not to be photographed in that state. But there are some things that no genuine lady would ever wear, even for the sake of covering herself.


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Doc Brown
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The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carroway, and observer to the actions of the other characters. While he is affected by their actions, his influence is small. Yet The Great Gatsby is a wonderful novel.
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oliverhouse
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Off topic, but Franc Li:
quote:
My sister stopped using yahoo mail because she believe a lot of the ads showed naked ladies.

Suggest to her that she downloads the Firefox and get one of the extensions (I think "Greasemonkey" is the extension manager) that lets you eliminate ads from Web sites. I mostly use IE since the version 7 release -- for compatibility with some of my office applications and because I butchered the FireFox installation a while ago -- but I've used Firefox extensively in the past, and it's a good piece of gear.


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xardoz
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Getting back to the opening post, a recent example of a protagonist caught up in world-changing events beyond his control might be Tom Cruise's "Ray Ferrier" character in Spielberg's 2005 version of "War of the Worlds". Cruise's Ferrier is simply a witness to the horror around him. He can do nothing to stop the invasion, has no real involvement in the resistance, and in the end it's only the germy deus ex machina that saves the day.
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wetwilly
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Too bad that movie sucked.
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ChrisOwens
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What can you expect if the leading actor is Tom Cruise? Judging from the clips I've been subjected too, isn't it true his character is taking a proactive part in trying to save his daughter? Having not seen the movie, that would seem to be the real core of the story.
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Robert Nowall
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Would you believe there were three different versions of "The War of the Worlds" that year?
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wetwilly
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THREE? Man, one was too many. The story is kind of dumb to start with, anyway. Take a dumb story, add Tom Cruise, and what do you get? A crappy movie my wife made me watch.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carroway, and observer to the actions of the other characters. While he is affected by their actions, his influence is small. Yet The Great Gatsby is a wonderful novel.

It is occasionally possible to have three kinds of "main" characters in a story (and if I remember correctly, OSC talks about all three in CHARACTER AND VIEWPOINT):

1--the protagonist (the person most deeply affected by what happens in the story--the one who changes the most);

2--the point of view character (the one through whose eyes the reader experiences the story);

3--the mover and shaker (the character whose actions are integral to the plot, the one who makes things happen) sometimes aka "the main character."

They can all be the same character, or there can be one character who is a combination of any two of the above, with someone else being the third, or they can be three different characters.

For example, in a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the protagonist could be argued to be the client, the point of view character is (of course) Watson, and the mover and shaker/main character is Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is not the protagonist if protagonist is defined as the character most changed by the events of the story, but he is certainly a "main character."

In THE GREAT GATSBY, Nick Carroway is the point of view character, but he is not the mover and shaker/main character. I'd be inclined to suggest that Jay Gatsby isn't even the main character, at least all by himself. He seems to me to be more like the protagonist, with Daisy Buchanan's husband a possible contender to share the "mover and shaker/main character" role with Gatsby. Daisy could also qualify in an indirect way, I suppose (though she could almost qualify as the "maguffin" as well).

Anyway, if you consider that Tolkien always used as his point of view characters in LORD OF THE RINGS the characters in each scene who were closest to ordinary people, and when a character moved into "mover and shaker" mode, he never entered that character's point of view again, you can perhaps see why it isn't always necessary to have the point of view character be the mover and shaker or the protagonist.

I think Tolkien did it that way, just as Doyle did it that way with his Sherlock Holmes stories, in order to make the "mover and shaker" characters more awe-inspiring to the reader.


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Christine
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To put is imply, I think it is possible to do this. It's called a millieu story and it is about a world. The main character in a millieu story is quite simply the one best placed to show us the world.

That said, these are not my favorite types of story. The world has to be really, really interesting in some way.


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ChrisOwens
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I thought a millieu story is where the story starts basically with the arrival of the character in the new millieu and ends with the character either leaving or deciding to stay.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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That's right, ChrisOwens, and a milieu story explores the milieu, which is why the milieu is a main character along with the character(s) who explore it.
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Christine
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The trouble with your theory, Chris, is that one example of a millieu story that I've always heard is "Lord of the Rings" which involves characters who were already in Middle Earth but who essentially crawl through it for us. Maybe I'm not understanding what you said correctly, but that definition of a millieu story sounds a little narrow. It reduces the millieu's we can explore to those that are capable of being entered and then exited. Not all millieus are like that.

I think that the way Kathleen put it is more accurate -- the millieu itself is the main character and the characters that crawl around it just show us why it's so important. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the original post, but perhaps I misunderstood the intent. It is difficult to get a good picture in a paragraph.


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Survivor
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Well, in a literary sense the Shire is a stand-in for the English countryside, with only the most superficial alterations, and the hobbits are stand-ins for the English. There is also the fact that Lord of the Rings is simply not a milieu story. For one thing, the vast majority of the milieu is simply never explored. It is easy to assume that, just because it contains one of the most richly imagined settings in literature, it must be a milieu story, but I have trouble accepting that assumption.
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ChrisOwens
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It could very well be that my understanding is off about the subject. To me, Rendezvous With Rama was a classic example of milieu, while LOTR was more of an event story.

LOTR starts basically when Bilbo passes along the ring to Frodo and ends when the ring is destroyed. Well, there is also the whole Scouring of the Shire subplot, where the hobbits, now seasoned by thier trails are able to handle thier own problems without outside intervention. But then, modern novels might not be able to get away with that much story after the main event is concluded.


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wbriggs
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I would say instead of "simply not a milieu story," "not simply a milieu story." It has strong milieu elements: starting when the outside world impinges, spending most of its time in this outside-world milieu, then back again. But the driving force seems to be Event.
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Survivor
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Hmm...I suppose that my phrasing could have seemed dismissive of the wonderfully developed setting of Middle-Earth. Such was not my intention, as I said, it's one of the most detailed in all of literature. But the story really isn't about exploring Middle-Earth. If you contrast Lord of the Rings with The Hobbit (also called "There and back again", a milieu story title if I've ever heard one), you can see the enormous difference, despite the fact that The Hobbit seems rather less developed. Bilbo never loses his essential status as an "outsider" to the world of Thorin and Gandalf et al. The Shire (and hobbits) are presented in that book as a place that wouldn't be even slightly culturally difficult for anyone with a fondness for the English countryside. The evolution both underwent in Lord of the Rings is not at all superficial.

The Hobbit isn't simply a milieu story either, of course. But it definitely is one, and Lord of the Rings is definitely not, despite having a far more developed setting.


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Robert Nowall
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I wouldn't say The Lord of the Rings ends with the destruction of the Ring. Excluding the appendices, the story goes on for the bulk of Book Six.

I'd say the story ends, appropriately, in the final scene, where Frodo sails with the elven lords to the undying lands. The theme wasn't the destruction of the Ring...as stated about three pages before the end by Gandalf, it's that "some people must give everything up so that others might have them." [Quoted from memory---you should go look for yourself.]


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Christine
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I didn't mean to turn this into a discussion of LOTR.

And setting aside what, exactly a millieu story is for a minute and how you implement that, let's just say that not all stories are character stories, even in part. When a story is not at all about a character then, IMHO, there is no need for them to drive the plot. The character need only serve a purpose.

I would add, though, that in this case two things must be true:

1. The character needs to totally get out of the way for whatever it is in the story that is important. They should have only enough development to tell the story.

2. Whatever it is that is the center of the story had better be VERY interesting.


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Robert Nowall
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What can I say? It came up...I answered.

But, to throw out something else...I've been rereading some of the stories of the late Jack Williamson over the last month. It seems I can figure out things about the stories I hadn't noticed when I last read them, which, in some cases, must be up to thirty years ago.

One thing, appropriate to this discussion, is that several stories have a main, narrating character, who seems incidental to the action---he's there on the scene, describing what happened, he witnesses the other characters acting and reacting, but he, essentially, does little or nothing himself. On reflection, it seems an odd quirk of writing. It's not always present in Williamson's writing, but it seems a constant theme. (Try "With Folded Hands," "The Equalizer," "The Crucible of Power," and the (later) novel The Moon Children.)


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