Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Writing Focus: Strengths of Protagonist (Primary) Narrators and Secondary Narrators


Welcome to a new series of posts on writing. I'll be getting into the mechanics of plot, character, metaphors, and more. I'll be posting these once a month, interspersed with my IWSG posts, my 5 Reasons to Write series (guests and me), and some guest posts from fellow writers (who comment here and visit fairly often). I may also work on some movies-and-books-for-writers posts that I'm not sure how I'll name. On my Wordpress blog (hardly used, was thinking of changing but didn't), I'll be posting posts on heroes and villains and/or re-posting content from this blog.


So, what do I mean by Protagonist Narrators and Secondary Narrators? What are their strengths? Here's a bit of what I think: 

Protagonists (Primary Narrators) are the center of the plot. 


The plot revolves around their action or inaction, their choices or their refusal to choose.
Protagonists are the heart of any plot.

Examples of Protagonist Narrators:


  • Would The Hunger Games still be The Hunger Games without Katniss? No. Katniss and her choices drive the plot forward. Even when she doesn’t want to play along, the other characters view her as an important figure and her action or inaction makes the story come alive. 
  • The Hobbit is obviously centered around Bilbo Baggins from title page to first paragraph to finish. the book is Bilbo’s book, his adventure, and all from his point of view. It’s why we don’t know what Gandalf is up to until he comes back to report things to Bilbo and the dwarves. While I do prefer the novel to the three movies, I enjoyed the three movies based on The Hobbit because we were able to see Gandalf’s adventures. 

Movies are almost always from a third person omniscient perspective, which is a bit different than a true protagonist narrator, or even a narrator who is not the protagonist.

Can a narrator not be the protagonist? 

Secondary Narrators can hold the plot within their point of view without being the protagonist. 

Their perspective colors the events, but the events are not centered around them.

Examples:

  • Dr. Watson narrates most of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, but Sherlock is definitely the protagonist. Sherlock may rely on Dr. Watson, but the action and solution of the great detective stories center around Sherlock.
  • In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mr. Utterson (a completely forgettable busybody) is the narrator of the events in the story. There is almost a sense of an omniscient narrator since the story is told in 3rd POV, but it is Mr. Utterson’s steps we doggedly follow through the strange rumors and events that lead to the revealing of Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde.



So, how should we, as writers, create our novels and stories? Should we use protagonist narrators or (non-protagonist) secondary narrators?

I think it depends on our style as writers and what best viewpoint there is for the story at hand.

Strengths of Protagonist Narrators:


  • We get some of the thoughts and emotions along with the character’s actions. Why does Katniss struggle to “perform” for the audience even when her life depends on it? We find that answer in her point of view in the novel.


  • We have a front row seat for events in the novel. The protagonist narrator is the center of the plot and therefore, the plot is right there and in our faces when we read a protagonist narrator. Katniss takes us with her for a brutal game of combat and heart-ache. 

Strengths of Secondary Narrators:


  • We see the story with a full picture as the secondary narrator ferrets out information that the protagonist may not even be thinking about. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mr. Utterson gets eye-witness accounts and gossip in his quest to help his friend, Dr. Jekyll. Many of the other characters are able to voice their perspectives and since we see Mr. Utterson worry over his friend, we know that Dr. Jekyll is usually a decent person.
  • Secondary narrators may keep the grisly stuff off the main page. When Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde, he relishes in his adventures, which include murder, child rape, and other things that we, as an audience, might not want to see from the front row seat of his mind. Although Mr. Utterson is horrified and shocked, we are just seeing the actual crimes from a perspective of hindsight and unspoken graphic details.


Can we mix these two types of narrators, protagonist narrators and secondary narrators, in the same story or novel? 


Yes. 

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card revolves around the early life of Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, but every chapter starts with a short, disembodied conversation between two adults who are “training” him. 
  • In my trilogy (The Champion Trilogy), the point of view jumps between the protagonist, her mentor, the villain, another mentor, and some of her friends (one of whom is a secondary protagonist/love interest). Each of these characters takes control of the plot in certain points of the trilogy, but only one is truly the main protagonist. 


There are many styles of protagonists in novels and short stories.
I hope to do a more extensive set of blog posts and articles on them, eventually.

However, next week, I will be starting a lengthy series on plot.

For a related post on characterization, check out my May post at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Writing Realistic Antagonists.


What kinds of narrators do you like best? 
Protagonist (primary) Narrators or Secondary Narrators?

Summer Sales:

99 Cents for Champion in the Darkness and Champion in Flight for Kindle readers until July 31st.

Smashwords Sale Items until July 31st.
FREE - Flicker: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry
FREE - Dynamic Writing 1: First Semester E-book
$1.50 Champion in Flight (I couldn't get it to 99 cents and put it in the sales catalog, probably author error).



Don't Forget #IWSGPit



Notable Post from Summer so far:
Ellen Jacobson's 5 Reasons to Write Cozy Mysteries (Guest Post)

9 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The secondary narrator takes some skill.
Sherlock Holmes' stories are excellent because they are told so well from Watson's point of view. The recent movies get away from that a bit, the the movie Young Sherlock Holmes keeps the Watson narrative.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like reading novels with more than one POV and narrator though most of the best mystery books I read are one narrator.

Heather R. Holden said...

A new series of writing posts! Fun!

Really fascinating to see the differences between primary and secondary narrators. As a reader, I don't feel I've come across the secondary ones too often, although I have definitely seen the two types mixed before. Would be interesting to see more stories funneled through a secondary narrator's viewpoint!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I haven't seen too many secondary narrator stories either. Maybe it's a style that needs to return.

Mark Noce said...

There's a pretty strong trend right now for protagonist-only POV in books. I've tried some different stuff, but both my agent and publisher pushed back, preferring a single protagonist POV. That being said, I liek both ways, including mixing the two.

Patricia Lynne said...

My stories have all been Primary Narrators.

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