The “Everyman” Is Not Dead

It’s been awhile! I did manage to complete Draft 5, or as it is known now, Draft 5.5 :P Unfortunately, I have decided to rewrite the first 40 pages of my book before passing it on to Beta Round 2. That sure did escalate! But why?

Although I am happy with the plot changes, I am still annoyed by the first third of my book. Both Austin and I agree that the opening of Paradisa is too awkward, oddly paced, and unbelievably random. (To her credit, H.K. Rowe called me out on this too!) I basically drag two normal people into a strange world because of a life-or-death situation, but that life-or-death situation gets fixed in Chapter Four. And, you know, they’re already there, so they decide to join with some deities and save the world.

I’ve tried to build in doorways of no return and urgency and moral pressure that forces the characters to abandon their normal lives. None of it works. None of it seems any more believable than the supernatural characters asking them point blank, “So, do you want to be the main characters of a fantasy novel?” How can one write an everyman into fantasy in a believable way?

Well, here are the methods previous authors have used. And as you can tell, they’re all complete clichés now.

  • “You’re the Chosen One, or you’re Special in some random way that attracts important, more powerful characters to you.” (Jupiter Ascending, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Divergent, True Blood, Twilight)
  • “You have secret powers you don’t know about yet!” (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, Eragon)
  • “Your parent/cousin/uncle/someone you know got themselves involved in some crap that’s now fallen on you, or they were secretly powerful in some way. Or you are secretly a royal and a throne is waiting for you.” (Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments, Star Wars, Pendragon, Wanted, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones)
  • “You accidentally fell into some nuclear waste and now you have powers!” (Every comic book ever.)

To subvert these situations, modern fantasy writers often give us protagonists who start the story as a supernatural entity, fully aware of their abilities, and their books are about disturbances in what passes as their ordinary world.  Unfortunately, urban fantasy has beaten this method into a trope as well. If I see one more half-human/half-vampire protagonist struggling with their human side vs. their monster side, I’ll throw a book.

Some writers manage to overcome all these tropes. Artemis Fowl hunts down the mystical world himself, in order to sell its secrets and fund his father’s rescue. Katniss Everdeen brings herself into the larger story by saving her sister’s life. The protagonists of Narnia are curious children who discover a beautiful new world – an escape from their country torn apart by war – and are compelled to help save it because of a kind-hearted Jesus Lion.

I still don’t want Connor and Clara to be ‘special.’ I still hold that the everyman can be a good protagonist. One of the things I love about Doctor Who is that his everyman companions are the true heroes. They’re the ordinary human beings who take a chance on a crazy, mystical, eccentric man. And despite their meager human existence in the shadow of the Doctor’s technology and powers, their depth of humanity is always what saves the day and endears the Doctor to them.

Likewise, one of the major themes of my story is the duality and codependence between deities and humans. I need my heroes to be human.

It’s been a struggle to write this story in a way that brings Connor and Clara into the fold as ordinary people, but also makes the reader believe that they’d stick around with some angels and gods. So, I asked myself “Why did the other memorable, legendary characters of epic stories become involved in their stories? What were their motivations?”

It became clear to me that Harry Potter, nor Tris Prior, nor Katniss Everdeen began with the goal of saving the world. Harry Potter was simply asked if he’d like to go to a school for wizards. Tris was asked to pick a Faction. Katniss was metaphorically asked if she wanted to save her sister. These characters made choices that only affected themselves. Only later, when some antagonist emerges and the characters are forced into unusual circumstances, does saving the world or defeating a villain even become their macrocosmic goal.

Start small. Start with what a character wants. Then, what they want will lead them to the bigger story. Don’t drag the character into the big story and then ask them to stick around.

So, I’m rewriting the first third of my book, and I think I have a good idea for what draws Connor and Clara into the fold. They know their father has been murdered by a creature they can’t explain, and they want answers to what it was. When answers come knocking, it’ll only be natural that they’ll follow.

Think it sounds promising? Do you struggle with realistic character motivations? Do you struggle to avoid cliché?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The “Everyman” Is Not Dead

  1. One thing you may want to think about is having one of your characters have a strong interest in mythology and /or theology as a side hobby. When I was in middle school i read every book I could find on the various mythology. Love Joseph Campbell. You too have done your share of studying myths and religious history. It doesn’t have to be a big thing but it may make them more accepting of this fantastic world and make them relate to some of the deity type characters. The point being, I am an everyday person. But if Thor came knocking at my door, I may be more likely to believe him vice someone who knew nothing about Norse myths.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head: start small, with strong, direct relatable motivations that a reader can latch onto. I think a good example of this is LOST. It started as a show about people in a fascinated scenario (plane crash on a desert island! What would you do?). They’re just trying to survive, which is the most basic need of all. Only gradually did we learn about their deeper driving needs, and then even more gradually did we learn that the fate of the world was at stake. But to answer your last question: yes, I would definitely read that! It’s a good, simple hook that I’m sure will lead into a much bigger, more complex saga.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s