The Great Protagonist

protagonist

A protagonist is regarded as a hero because they take up a quest to attain something they have determined to be worth risking their life for. Their journeys are filled with obstacles and adversaries that at first appearance seem impossible to overcome, but the protagonist’s resiliency and resourcefulness often leads them to victory.

Whether we are pursuing a promotion, an accomplishment, or a personal goal, we should keep in mind that the obstacles along our journeys are an integral part of our own stories. Just like a memorable protagonist, we should allow conflict to fuel our desire to become stronger, and constantly adapt to meet the problems we are facing.

Will you allow your antagonizing force to defeat you, or will you rise above it? And in the moments when your demons creep up on you, will you undergo the internal change necessary to continue on to your own finish line?

Something to think about.

  • Thomas M. Watt

Cover Art

I’ve been researching successful indie authors the past few days to get an idea of how I can maximize book sales. One point that gets hammered is the importance of having a good cover design. Word on the street is find books in the genre you are writing in, see what cover designs sell the most books, then get a cover similar to them. If it were up to me, this painting I made would be my cover for Way of the World – Michael’s Story:

Kingsley's island on fire

And I feel it would be complement the cover to Way of the World – Adam’s Story:

Upscale Saloon

Unfortunately, one truth I have learned about people is they’re much more likely to purchase a product that seems familiar to them, rather then branching out to try a product that seems unique and different. Here are my top three cover selections from the genre of Christian Fantasy:

a draw of kings resistance cover - depositphotos the gift of light - j. and g. publishing

Each of these covers was designed by a different cover artist. G. and J. publishing, Lookout Design Inc., and “Resistance” credited four various contributors.

Perhaps I’m dreaming big, because I have no idea whether these cover artists are even available, willing to work with me, or even within my budget. Still, these covers are impressive, and each contributed to a book that found its way into the top 100 bestsellers list for Christian fantasy.

What do you think? Which cover design is your favorite? Am I fooling myself by thinking the paintings I made would make good covers? Be honest now.

Looking forward to your responses.

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom

Tension: James meets Penny Part 2

tension

In my last post, we discussed how to raise stakes for specific situations. By constantly reminding the reader of the importance of your protagonist’s current quest, whether through direct writing or subtext, you will build toward a rewarding climax. Even though this is only one chapter out of the book, it is important to constantly fill your stories with build-ups and pay-offs. If you missed my last post, I suggest you take the time to read it in order to understand the importance of it. Reach it by clicking here.

In the following scene, I’ve created a rise in tension by making the situation more and more uncomfortable for James. Remember from the last scene, his initial meeting with Penny is going to have an enormous effect on his psychological state, one way or the other. Here’s the excerpt from “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

       “That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was certain he was about to do.

“Excuse me, miss – it’s Penny, correct?”

James could hear Penny and the rest of her group slowly come to a stop.

“Yes, that’s me.”

James watched Roy cup his hands together and speak more elegantly than he ever had before.

“Well Penny, my name is Roy, and that there’s my friend James.” He pointed right at him with two fingers glued together.

James looked away. Every part of him wanted to smash his own face into the wall. The other part of him wanted to tackle Roy.

“Give us a wave, James,” said Roy.

James gulped, then looked back and waved hesitantly with a terribly corny smile.

“You see Penny, James here is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. And he’s done so many great things for me, I wanted to help him out a bit.”

“Oh, O.K,” said Penny.

Roy continued. “And this great guy, who I like to call James the great, he really digs ya, Penny. He says you’re the most beautiful gal he has ever set eyes on. Every time you walk by, make your bed, or read a book, James is watching you.”

Penny took a step back and looked horrified.

“Don’t worry, Penn. James is no stalker. As a matter of fact, he told me yesterday he wants to start a stalker awareness club. You know what’s not a joke? How lovely James thinks you are. I think you ought a give him a chance. After all, you two are the same age, stuck underground in a base, it seems like it’s meant to be, don’t ya think?”

James looked up at the ceiling. He wanted God to hear his prayer. He prayed that the brick ceiling above would collapse and kill him. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, to please let it kill Roy as well.

“Fine,” said Penny with a shrug, “I’ll meet him.”

“Best decision you ever made.”

As Roy walked Penny over, James wiped instant oatmeal crumbs from his jeans and held his hand out for a handshake.

“You can call me James.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ‘James the Great’?”

James laughed loudly and for a bit longer than the joke deserved. He made a face at Roy like an awkward cry for help. Roy countered with a wink and a smile, then left him to fend for himself. James felt his heart in his throat. He stood up.

“James is fine. Uh, you like to read, huh?”

“I guess so… I never read much before, but down here I don’t have much of a choice, not in this hellhole.”

Afraid his nervousness might become visible, James put on the best front that he could. He leaned smoothly up-against the wall beside him, and casually slid his hand into his pocket.

“Yea, life is pretty plain down here. Me and crazy Roy pretty much just play cards all day. Life would be a ton better if it wasn’t for that stupid council, all those idiots do is make schedules and stupid restrictions. Without them, life down here would be great.”

Penny looked down at her feet, “Yeah, ha, right… Ummm, tell me about your friend Roy. How do you know him?”

“Met him the night of the invasion. Crazy Roy keeps it real, and he’s a former pro poker player! Plus he can play some tunes on the guitar, and I think he said he used to be a pilot or something.”

“That’s kinda cool.”

“Yeah, and he has all this chewing tobacco stuff, and he lets me take as much as I want.”

“Ew… Does he have any alcohol?”

“Oh ya, he does.”

Penny moved in and put her hands on James’ wrist. Her bracelets jingled, “James, me, you, and Roy. We’re drinking tonight!!”

“Well… yeah, okay.”

“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”

James laughed awkwardly, “I’m not scared, I’m down. I’ll ask Roy.”

“Good.” Said Penny. With a wide, seductive smile, she left to go to breakfast. At first James walked away with calm strides, but as soon as he was in the clear he practically sprinted over to Roy.

* * *

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

James meets Penny Part 1 – Building the Stakes

Durr

The quest of your protagonist will matter more to your readers when the repercussions of failing at that goal will have known devastating internal or external consequences.

In the following scene, James puts Penny on such a high pedestal that his initial encounter with her will have a drastic effect on his psychological well-being. All of this build-up is being done to create greater tension and conflict later on, which you will see in the second half of the chapter when it is posted tomorrow.

Every piece of dialogue or description that is designed to increase the stakes (the importance of James’ 1st conversation with Penny) is in bold typeface. The following is an excerpt from my novel “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

CHAPTER 12    

TSSH TSSH TST. The clamor from pots and pans being whacked together rang throughout the room. James slowly wiggled out from his bed and peeled his crusty eyes open. The clashing metal meant that it was time to wake up and get some breakfast, at least for James’ group.

It’d been nearly ten months since the invasion. Life in the underground military base consisted of the same monotonous routine, day-after-day. But group breakfast was the moment James most looked forward to – that was because Penny’s group always followed his.

Penny was the name of the blonde girl who always wore the yellow rubber boots. He still hadn’t ever spoken to her, but a couple times she’d caught him staring at her. This day, though, James planned to ignore her completely. That way he could tell if she liked him back. If she did, he’d catch her staring at him. It was a foolproof plan.

James and his group made their way into the long hallway. Juan put the pots and pans down. James wished him a ‘buenos tardes’ and received a smile back.

“I hate this friggen hall,” Roy muttered. He never woke up in a good mood.

“Morning Roy,” Janie said, as she past him.

“Morning,” said Roy. When she was far enough away, he whispered to James, “What a smoke-show.”

“Good morning guys!” Said Bill, who was walking right behind them.

“Morning Bill! Uhh, Great day, huh?” Called back Roy.

“Sure is.” Said Bill with a chipper voice, before letting out the standard giggle that came at the end of his every sentence. He skip-jogged to catch up with his wife.

Janie, who was second chair in the Underground Council, led James and the gang through the plant room and into the food area. Roy refused to refer to it by that name, and insisted on calling it the, ‘Homeless Buffet.’ He called it that because the ‘Food area’ was no more than an aluminum trashcan. It was filled twice daily with palm-sized portions that were determined by the council. Conservation was a fundamental rule for survival, Fitz had declared. Even those who were whittling down to skin and bone, and spent their days with arms over their bellies, were not permitted to eat more than their allotted share.

Janie handed out a packet of instant oatmeal to each of the bedmates, as well as canned pineapples for them to share. On the clipboard hanging from the trashcan, she wrote down exactly what foods they ate and the size of their portions. To avoid mistakes, each person had to sign off. This process was required by every group, for every meal.

James waited anxiously for Roy to sign. Penny and her group would be coming down the hallway any minute.

“Canned pineapples again, huh? You really ought’a talk to Fitz about changing it up a little,” Roy said to Janie.

“I would, but every man I talk to around here looks at me like they want to bend me over and-”

Roy popped the can open and spilled juice onto his chest and stomach. He hurried over to the sink to let the excess liquid drain out.

“Are you alright, Roy?”

“Uh, yeah… How do men look at you?”

James poked his head outside. Penny’s group was coming down the hallway. He didn’t want her to spot him sitting by himself, though. Then she’d think he was a loser.

“Like they want to bend me over to their perspective on things.”

“Oh. Course.”

 “C’mon Roy, sign the sheet,” said James.

 “What’s your hurry, kid? Got a date?”

 “What? No. Why?”

Roy laughed as he dried his shirt off. “All right, all right.” He signed the sheet and walked along with James out into the hallway. They reached their typical spot and sat down. Roy and James always played Go Fish during breakfast.

“Hurry Roy, deal them out,” said James.

“Geeze, hold your horses, I will!”

James wanted to look like he was busy when Penny walked by, so that she wouldn’t know that he was ignoring her on purpose.

After Roy dealt the cards, he spotted Penny and her group coming up the hallway. Roy looked back at James with a troublesome grin.

“What?” whispered James.

Roy shook his head and continued to smirk.

James adjusted his sitting position to be more upright, and when he spoke he did so with a manlier voice than normal. She might have been close enough to hear. “C’mon, let’s play.”

“That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was absolutely certain he was about to do.

To be continued…

* * *

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

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

Suspense vs. Conflict

SUSPENSE VS. CONFLICT

Writers often confuse suspense and conflict, or even worse, use the two terms interchangeably, as if they imply the same thing. They don’t. See if you can figure out the element that is employed in each of the two scenes below in order to test your own understanding.

Scene 1 –

George saw his favorite ball sitting on the grassy hill in the middle of the park. He raced over to get it, but before he came close, a dog ran by and scooped it up with its jaw. George chased after the dog, but soon tripped and fell flat on his face. He returned to his feet and broke into a sprint, chasing the dog into the picnic area. George hurdled over families, dodged joggers, and tumbled under frisbees. When he was finally close enough, George launched off his feet and tackled the dog to the ground. He let out a sigh of relief, before a shrill cry reminded George the dog wasn’t his. He stood up, ball in hand, and hurried to escape the mob of angry dog owners chasing after him.

Scene 2 –

She told him not to open the box. She warned him sternly that he was to never, ever, open the box. Still, George stared at it with his eyes fixated upon the single, unbolted latch that held it shut. All he had to do was flip it up and he could finally learn what was inside. So many years, so many sunny afternoons, so many times had he pondered what was inside that box. Never had he a chance to see before, but this day, this bright, beautiful day, George had a chance – his sister was at her friend’s house.

George gulped. It was go-time. There was no backing out of it now. He had already entered her room, and one loud noise would result in a week’s worth of chores, dictated by his mother. He crept closer on his hands and knees. Carefully, and as silently as possible, George flipped open the latch. He couldn’t help but scream after what he saw. His mom came running, and he knew an incredible punishment was in store for him. It didn’t matter – he was too angry to care. Inside the small box was a single note, written by his sister.

“Got ya.”

* * *

Figured it out? The first scene employs the use of conflict. The second suspense.

Conflict is anything that gets in the way of the protagonist and her objective. Suspense is information withheld.

In the first scene, George’s objective is to attain his favorite ball. The elements of conflict involved are the dog, the families picnicking, the frisbees, and George’s own clumsy feet. These are all elements of external conflict. Internal conflict is equally important, but we’ll save that for another day.

In the second scene, the elements of suspense are George’s sister’s refusal to tell him what is inside the box, the latch, and the prospect of his mother overhearing his sneaking around in his sister’s room.

Both suspense and conflict are extremely important elements of writing, and one would be wise to employ each element into every scene that they write.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for specscout.com

– author of A New Kingdom

Editing

Image

Words fall down to death by red sword, pen cuts out the excess whores.

Red pen ink, to my page, stains the thoughts I pressed in pain.

Cut the shit the darlings too, kill the ego made from ruse.

Red line runs through half a page, cuts out these words I thought were great.

Cut the shit, cut it through, line-to-line an ‘X’ marks lose.

Red ink here and there a lot, lines by circle coffee blots.

Oh what action oh what prose guess what my words it’s time to go,

Leave my pages, I’m sucking thin, the story goes without you in.

I am so sorry, understand, the reader has made his own demands.

He said your lovely quite alright but he fears you’re endless plight.

You see dear words your painted tint, a sort of way to fake a win.

I guess you came to satisfy these thoughts of mine which I thought write.

Looks like I tossed you in a pile, mulled you over for a while.

Fell in love with your sweet mirth, should not have slept with Mrs. Adverb.

Time to say goodbye to you, nice to make you show such truths.

I am so sorry and so sad it’s come to this oh yes it has,

One more chance to let you speak, just one last thought I’m setting free.

The words that float and sound so good, the two I say do sound so rude.

I’m going to have to end with that, a spit of banter yet compact,

Off you go unneeded prose, take your charm you’ve been disposed.

No more fancy, no more show, grab your friend and off you go.

Suck my words into the night, enjoy this rhyme and sleep alright.

Read a thing a time or two, see it’s madness writing for you.

Well my words goodbye you two, bull-shit ends now – I bid ado.

– Thomas M. Watt

Wild Bill

Wild Bill

Wild Bill is by far the most menacing of all his bandits. He carries with him an 11 inch Belgium pacifier. The sawed-off shotgun is attached to a shoulder sling, and lining the interior of his black coat are steel hacksaw blades.

He was the father figure to my main character Michael, influencing him into committing both the Bandit Beach Massacre and the Slave Owner Slaughter.

To find out more about my novel, “Way of the World,” just check out my website at http://www.thomasmwatt.com