Storytelling Elements: Introducing your Main Character

Gladiator_ver1

When I first started writing, I always had a difficult time determining how I wanted my main character to appear in each and every scene. Though your protagonist will always be an extension of yourself, we feature a wide variety of selves –

For instance, you may be a fearless rock climber who grits his teeth and laughs at the face of physical danger, but the thought of saying hello to a girl you like makes your throat dry and your feet heavy. Or maybe you consider drag racing an exhilarating experience, but every time you try to parallel park you wind up freaking the f’ out then cursing the owner of that parked BMW you just hit three times.

Point is, no person is static – we change from situation to situation, person to person, and place to place. You are not cardboard, and neither are good protagonists.

But don’t we all love the bad-asses?

When you think back to your favorite moments in films and books, surely you think of the climax when your character does something ball-sy to save the day. But I’ll tell you something you may not have noticed – the reason your favorite characters impact you emotionally during the climax of a story is because you related to them in the beginning of it.

Every good story features a character arc. That’s the change in character your protagonists undergoes throughout the course of the story, and it should move hand-in-hand with the progress they make toward their external goal. The reason we all love that montage in Rocky so much is because in the beginning of the film he strikes a chord with our own lives – washed up, unloved, thrown out and spit up by society.

But when Rocky gets a second chance – when he trains for that boxing match, when he lifts his arms high after racing up those stairs – we see ourselves, and his sense of accomplishment becomes our own.

Once we see ourselves in the shoes of a main character, we become emotionally invested in their journey. That’s why we all love happy endings and stories in general – they fill us with hope for our own lives.

Before you can craft an emotionally-charged climax where your protagonist completes their transformation and fills your readers with hope, you must make your character someone your readers can empathize with from the start. This does not mean that your main character must be generalized, ordinary or even likable. It means that the reader must be able to empathize with them.

We don’t immediately gel with “the one”, a jedi, or a gladiator. We empathize with Mr. Anderson, the always-late office worker. We empathize with Luke, the simple farm boy. We empathize with Maximus, the betrayed general who was sold into slavery and has an emperor to kill. It is the rise of these characters that make them worth rooting for – it’s not about who your character is, it’s about who they once were and who they gradually become.

In “A New Kingdom,” James starts out as a passive aggressive teenager with a dead-beat dad, no social life, and the fashion sense of a homeless person. Throughout the course of the story, however, he becomes the leader of a rebellion and humanities greatest chance at being free once more.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning. See if you can relate:

* * *

CHAPTER 1

In a classroom packed with like-minded adolescents, who dressed with the same flashy t-shirts and flat converse shoes, sat an oddball who wore a faded grey t-shirt along with dirty, knee-high shorts.

His name was James O’keefe. His face looked like it had been sculpted by Michelangelo, but his figure was tall, lanky, and altogether bony. Yet with even the most marvelous of faces, a wardrobe better suited for a homeless person made it difficult for him to achieve even a half-decent social ranking. After all, a gold coin covered in feces rarely gets picked up.
James exhaled through his nostrils and looked to see the fat red “F” marked at the top. He was hoping for a C or at least a D, but once again he’d flunked a test he’d wasted hours studying for.

Chris Hackle, the kid with the overgrown fo-hawk, turned to his buddy and whispered something. James caught a glimpse of his quiz – It boasted a sweet-looking “A”.

While James tried to convince himself not to get bitter, Hackle started working on his own project. He wrote something down on a piece of paper, something which made his buddies laugh. Hackle’s buddy, who wore a tie over his a normal T-shirt, dug a plastic cup out from his backpack. The two of them laughed then passed the paper and cup along with the scribbled note.

Whatever they were up to, it had something to do with James – he was sure of it. One by one, each student would read the paper, hide a laugh, then look over at him.

The poorly dressed teen tried to ignore it. He desperately hoped that the bell would just ring. He sensed the dampness under his armpits, and so he crossed his arms to hide any sweat-marks. Class had to be over soon. More than anything else, all he wanted to do was read that stupid piece of paper, but every school kid knows not to show a kid something that they really, really wanted to see.

The bell rang. James got out from his chair, picked up his oversized back-pack, and jetted to the door. He was already outside of class when Hackle grabbed him by the back of his shirt and stopped him.

“Donation!” Hackle pushed the paper into James’ chest and put a cup full of crunchy dollar bills and change in his hand. James read the paper.

Fund for the Homeless

As you can clearly see by his terrible wardrobe, James is a hobo (and a bitch) and his dad is too drunk to notice. Please make a small donation to help this sorry student (bitch) out.

* * *

– Thomas M. Watt

A New Kingdom

Would you kill the love of your life if…

prison cell

What if the love of your life lost their mind, and their inability to show restraint during a time of crisis was putting your own life at risk?

What if a group were chasing after you, and one loud noise would give away your position and get you killed?

Would you risk hurting someone you loved to save yourself?

What if hurting them were your only option, and the future of humanity depended on YOUR survival??

James faces the same predicament in the following excerpt. To give you some context:

– James is locked in a hidden prison room.

– Zephrons are giant red aliens who invaded planet earth and enslaved whatever humans they chose not kill.

– The night of the invasion, a group of locals escaped to an underground military base. They were soon afterward indoctrinated by Colonel Fitz, who considers himself to be the new messiah. This scene takes place in that underground base.

– The zephrons are going to wipe out the rest of humanity in one day…

And James is the only person who can stop them.

* * *

CHAPTER 52

James’ stomach grumbled loudly. He hadn’t eaten a good meal since before his sentence to the picking plant. He looked around aimlessly for something edible to distract him. Nothing. Only the doggie saucer of water. He took handfuls from it, desperately hoping for the water to trick his stomach. He began weeping as he drank.

“I wanna marry you,” said Penny.

James raised his head. Penny moved in, then began licking water out from the bowl. James crawled backwards then clutched himself and began to rock. He smeared dry the tip of his nose, then looked across the room to Spes’ cell.

“Do not worry, human. It will never-”

“Never what!” James screamed. He stood up, grabbed the prison cell bars, then shook them. “What do you want me to do? My best friend is dead, my dad is dead, and tomorrow morning, every human on the surface of the earth will be dead! And here I am.” He grabbed both sides of his hair and breathed chaotically. “Stuck in a prison cell, unable to do anything about it.” He squinted back at them and pointed his index finger. “And you idiots expect me to believe that this is God’s plan? That somehow my being here is going to help me conquer the zephrons?”

“Calm down, human. God knows-”

“God knows, God knows, you know what? God knows shit. That’s what I think. If you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself, period.”

A humming noise came from outside. The door started to creak open to the corridor, and Fitz entered in. He held the ring of keys.

“Well well well, traitor.” He walked over to James with the key ring in one hand, a rifle in the other. “I get your bicep, in case you were wondering.”

“What happened to Roy? What happened to your daughter?”

“I locked Penny up for disobeying me. She was hanging around that drunk loser after I forbid her to.”
“And Roy?”

“Why don’t you ask her?”
“I did.”

“Well? Did she tell you?”

“She’s a little kooky if you haven’t noticed.”

Fitz smiled. “Roy is dead.”

“From a bullet?”
He nodded.

James lowered his head. “Suicide.”

“Not suicide.”

James looked back up.

Fitz grinned and pointed to himself. “That was all me.”
“You killed Roy?”

Just then, the ambulance sirens in the hallway began going off – the same that were triggered whenever someone stepped out from the elevator and entered the underground base. They were soon accompanied by the sounds of zephron howls. Human shrieks quickly followed.

“You led them back here!” said Fitz.

James tried to shake his head as Fitz raised his rifle.

“You led them-”

Janie ran in and tackled Fitz. The ring of keys dropped to the ground, but the rifle remained in his grasp.

“My king! My king! We have to go!”

Greg, Juan, and the other underground council members rushed in. They grabbed Fitz and carried him off his feet and out from the room, then turned towards the back end of the corridor. The keys remained in the middle of the room, unreachable by any of the now-fully exposed prisoners – the door to the secret prison had been left open. All the zephrons had to do was peak inside and James would be toast.

“Ahh!” screamed Penny.

James hurried over then hugged Penny’s face into his chest. He picked up a ratty, child-sized blanket and did his best to cover them both with it. He whispered into her ear as the loud, nightmarish yells echoed from the main room over to them.

“Penny, I need you to calm down,” he whispered.

She bit her lips into her mouth. “But what’s happening?”

The screams only intensified. So did the wild zephron howls. It was a slaughter – no doubt about it. James was nervous and scared, but knew that as long as everyone inside the secret prison area remained quiet, there was a good chance the zephrons wouldn’t bother leaving the main room. And even if they did, they were more likely to run straight past them and battle Fitz and his small army instead.

“What’s happen-”

“Don’t worry – I just need you to be quiet. Can you do that for me?” James’ eyes flickered up. He noticed the hammer in the corner of the cell. “Everything is going to be okay.”

“James!” said Penny.

“Shh,” he whispered, then covered her mouth. “Be quiet, Penny.”

Soon he heard their loud, thumping footsteps echoing through the corridor.

“Hime-cared!” She blurted out.

James hugged her face into his shoulder. “Please… just, shhh.”

Penny struggled to break free as the monstrous roars grew closer. She began to move her limbs erratically, and screamed more muffled words. James struggled to keep her quiet, but she wouldn’t be still. Penny escaped his grasp.

“James! James! Promise you’ll marry me, James!”

He could hear the zephrons closing in. James crawled on his hands and knees over to the hammer. He picked it up, then gulped and looked at Penny.

“Say you love me! Say it!”

James grabbed Penny by the throat and shoved her down, back against the ground. His hand shook as he held the hammer over her forehead.

“Shut-up,” He pleaded through a whisper.

“JAMES!” Penny screamed.

“Don’t!” said Fides, from across the room.

“JAMES!” She shouted again.

James swung the…

* * *

Well, what would you do? I’d love to hear a variety of perspectives.

* And if you’re dying to know what actually happens, you can start by clicking here.

– Thomas M. Watt

Intelligence Vs. Faith

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One of the great questions every person faces during their lifetime is whether to place their faith in God or scientific reason. The debate has gone on for centuries.  An issue that I find particularly captivating is, at what point do you reconsider your own religious views due to the testimony of another?

For example, I’m certain every atheist has heard a man of unshakable faith recount stories of spiritual blessings and unexplainable phenomena that suggest “help from above.”

Likewise, any person who lives for God must at some point face the fact that many of the most accomplished and brilliant people of this world have achieved great success without so much of giving God a head nod.

This is a major conflict my hero must face in “A New Kingdom.” The alien invaders conquer mankind in one night, and after enslaving humanity with tremendous ease, he is left to wonder what kind of God would allow his children to be defeated by a Godless race.

Would you be willing to change your views on faith if a more intelligent race of non-believers were to conquer the human (and historically God-fearing) race with ease?

– Thomas M. Watt

God or Aliens?

aliens or God

If aliens visited earth, how would it affect your faith? Would it shatter your religious views, or not change a thing?

What if aliens invaded planet earth, conquered and enslaved the human population, and informed us that God was a myth invented to keep humanity in line?

I want to hear some thoughts on this subject. Go ahead, leave something in the comment section. This question consumed me for a year so much that I finally wrote a book about it.

I’m looking forward to reading your responses… Unless your name is Keith. You know who you are, Keith.

– Thomas M. Watt

Unsweet Thoughts

addict

To love for some is just pretend,

to love for some is a fond friend.

To love for some means happy ends,

to love for some means heartbreaks mend.

But to others love does mean,

a short rushed feeling the length of dreams.

When your eyes open again, there you are alone in bed.

Alone again just like before, eyes wide open with one new shut door.

You toss and turn to fall asleep,

but when you do the dream’s not sweet.

It has turned into a nightmare,

thoughts of once sweet things now fright you.

To love for some means happy thoughts,

but to others means future sleeps loss.

– Thomas M. Watt

Marketing – Day 2

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Waddup.

So yesterday was a pretty big success. Got some new followers on this blog, one of whom has a very impressive blog and seems determined to make her debut novel something special (her name is Allison and you can visit her blog here).

Beyond that, I reorganized my wordpress page, ditched the old shit cover of “A New Kingdom” and gave it a flashy new one (that’s sick as fuck), and edited the first chapter of Way of the World. Off to a good start? I’d say a fucking great start.

So where do I go from here?

From what I’ve garnered, the next step is to create a twitter account and promote my books in various forums. I’ve also got this wild fantasy of dressing up as one of my book characters, going to a local book store, and calling people over with a loud voice, then smiling big, laughing obnoxiously, and then I get money and they walk away with my book. I’m pretty sure that’s all there is to selling, right? Haha, just kidding… I’m gonna fall on my ass but so what.

Eh. I am not looking forward to this marketing shit. Then again, I’m kind of excited to do it, because I’m single and it seems sort of like dating – if you’re a single dude, you ain’t ever gonna get any unless you get off your ass and risk making a fool of yourself. You know it’s true because there’s an expression that says “Only fools fall in love,” but I never heard anyone say “See that really shy guy over there who keeps scribbling in that notebook over there? Yeah, he gets a ton of ass.”

Thomas M. Watt