Bad Writing Advice: Changing the Protagonist

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

When you’re writing that great novel sometimes small details slip through the cracks and a correction or two becomes necessary. For instance, you might find yourself writing the closing chapter and realize the protagonist doesn’t work. Yeah, okay, so you should have planned better. You wrote by the seat of your pants and then discovered you weren’t wearing pants at all. Or maybe you were plotting and realized you were plotting against yourself. Either way, you wrote yourself into the deepest, darkest corner in the deepest, darkest haunted house.

In other words, the novel will soon be lining the bottom of a bird cage (maybe a digital bird cage).

On the other hand, there’s my advice.

Don’t scrap all that great work. Don’t slave over a massive rewrite. Ever hear of having a twist at the end? A big mistake equals a big twist. That’s right, you can save that novel. All you have to do is change the protagonist on the fly at the end. Of course, you need someone else to accept the role, but that’s why the lame characters you haven’t used exist.

Here’s an example to show you how it works:
__________

The intermittent and obscure trail had survived for over a thousand years winding through the jungle and inviting the worst horrors imaginable to prey upon the ill-prepared seeking unimaginable wealth. It also split into three. One branch ran towards a fallen tree spanning a narrow canyon. The center branch curled around the hill ahead where cries announced another leopard kill. To the right, another branch descended into a swamp cast in midnight darkness at noon.

Dirk Betters stopped, his hands on his hips, his shoulders thrust back, and his jaw square. “Nearly there. The mystery dares deepen, to thwart our determined efforts to find the Lost City of the Green Munchkins, but I’ll prevail.”

Behind, Rowan Upstream reached back for the map in his pack, backpedaling in a circle until a heel caught an exposed root and he tumbled. “Hang on, I’ve almost got it.”

“We don’t need a map. All the clues are obvious when you have a trained eye like I do.”

Perky Lashes pulled out two bottles, one bug repellant and the other perfume. Eying them, she shrugged and sprayed both. “Which way, Dirk?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” He raised a hand to point, gasped, and fell over.

Perky screamed. Rowan screamed and fell over backwards again. Flailing, Rowan shed his pack and scrambled to Dirk’s side.

“Oh no, oh no.” Rowan rolled him over. “What the heck? He just dropped dead for no reason.”

Crouching on the other side of Dirk’s still-commanding body, Perky began brushing her blond hair, the jungle humidity threatening the curl. “But he was the only one who knew the way so we could find the lost city’s lost treasure. How can we become sickeningly wealthy now?”

“You’re asking me?” Rowan mopped his brow and then mopped it again. The sweat stains beneath his arms spread so he mopped them, too. “This feels like the author’s heavy hand. We’re going to die horribly. There’s no leader to find the city.”

“You’ll have to lead us then.” Perky replaced the hair brush in her hand with mascara. Leaning over, she used the reflection in Dirk’s over-sized and shiny belt buckle to apply it.

“No way. I’m just the inept sidekick who supplies well-timed quips. Shoot, I didn’t even enter the story until halfway through. You’ll have to do it.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you’re the kick-ass love interest.”

“Nope. Sorry. I’m the vain love interest who serves no purpose. The kick-ass one died the chapter before you entered the story when she ate the poisoned dinner meant for Dirk.”

“Damn.” Rowan made a fist and pounded it on dirt that turned out to be stone. “Ow.” He shook his hand. “This is crazy. Why don’t we have an aging mentor type who grew up in the jungle?”

“Hello? Remember? He died three chapters ago when he saved Dirk from the poison darts.”

“Shoot. That’s right. What about a nerdy type who learned all about the lost city in ancient texts?”

“She died when a deadly spell escaped after Dirk opened the old tome holding the Curse of the Green Munchkins. It was horrible. I almost stepped in what was left of her.”

“Oh, wow. What about the soft-hearted, muscle bound laborer no one expected to play a big part?”

“Nah. He died when he stepped in front of the rolling boulder Dirk triggered upon entering that last cave.”

“Everybody is dying…” Rowan sat heavy.

Perky pointed the mascara wand at him. “You know, I’m starting to think Dirk was actually an idiot.”

“H’m, that would explain why the author did away with him. Still, some warning would have been nice. You know, I’ll bet back at the village there’s an unopened envelope beside my cot warning me this was going to happen.”

“Guess I should have let the old witchdoctor warn me when he was selling those plastic skulls. Sounds like someone did some sloppy planning.”

“What do we do?”

Perky closed the mascara and slipped it into the pocket on her vest. “I say, let’s let the Green Munchkins mold. I’m going to suddenly become enlightened and realize I don’t need all that wealth”

“That might work. And now that I think about it, I was late to the story because my university wouldn’t let me leave sooner. And,” he waved a finger for emphasis, “I’ll bet that letter is actually to inform me I’m now a full professor and a prestigious job awaits me. Want to come?”

“Can I save street children?”

“Of course. We haven’t spoken much, but we should get married. What do we do about Dirk?”

She smiled. He sighed. “He can be the antagonist.”

Moving to his knees, Rowan leaned forward, Perky meeting him halfway over a body still registering surprise. They embraced, their kiss lingering long enough for the clouds that weren’t there a moment ago to part. Caught in a sunbeam, the two lovers abandoned the quest knowing they’d always have each other—and possibly a sequel.

One Reply to “Bad Writing Advice: Changing the Protagonist”

  1. Pingback: Bad Writing Advice: Changing the Protagonist | Christina Anne Hawthorne

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