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The Ideal Protagonist -- by Girish Karthileyan

Is identifying and deciding on a protagonist still possible today? Go back to the meaning of the word. In artistic constructions the main character holds the title of protagonist. This disregards the morality aspects of that main character. Take for example The Picture of Dorian Gray, my experience with a dark protagonist.

Dorian Gray committed indecorous acts according to the everyday person of 1890. His ruinous acts disfigured the portrait of his soul. He pursued pleasure without regard for morality. He broke his engagement, leaving her heartbroken and suicidal. The rare nature of this dark protagonist stems from the fact that the reader must understand and relate with the protagonist.

Everything turns more complicated with the advent of deconstruction, specifically different points of view. Now our ability for choosing the main character grows feeble. Take for example Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The majority of this novel splits the role of main character in two — a wife and a husband. The reader defines the two main characters as protagonist and antagonist without anything more from the author (something we should see more of).

In all reality, the ambiguity of identifying the protagonist rings truer to life. This also works well for writing compelling and relatable characters. The user-defined solution brings everything around to the idea of postmodernism — there is no cookie-cutter solution, what do you think? I think the protagonist role rests with the more virtuous character when the main character refuses the role (as in you just can’t decade!) Adding the further distinction that the reader’s opinion matters, makes some sense from the writing side.

Author and reader interaction Nearly all the tools and devices under the umbrella of postmodernism exploit this relationship between author and reader. Take lacunae, a pause somewhere through a story provides a gap for effect. That communication started at the very beginning of writing. The author has always tried get a message or information across. This seems obvious, but authors now exploit this connection. Authors vilify antagonists and elevate protagonist to steer the conversation or leave the conclusion open. Take The Dubliners by James Joyce. Each of the loosely connected vignettes shares a story and allows the reader to form the conclusion.   

The protagonist must earn a close connection with the reader. Earn, not establish because the reader ultimately has an equal input. Novel writing or any creative endeavor resolves to a dialogue between the author and reader, even if both end up one in the same (diary). Writing is but a show. The writer must identity an audience as anyone in book publishing knows. Get in the mind of the reader and figure out what they want out of reading your work. Start the conversation.


Silver700 A.K.A. Girish Karthikeyan

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Posted by Girish Karthileyan 24 May 2015 at 11:19
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Responses to this blog

Rellrod 25 May 2015 at 01:49  
Let me be inflammatory about it (in a good-humored sort of way): I think postmodernism, or deconstruction, is a failed attempt to avoid what were seen as the cliches of actual storytelling. (With respect to which "cliches," I would cite this commentary.) You can avert any given story element or trope — defeat expectations, use unreliable narrators, and so on — but I don't think trying to tell a story that isn't a story is "truer to life." On the contrary.

I would thus say that we can certainly identify and decide on a protagonist today; we may just have to back out of the blind alley of postmodernism to do so. We can still use a lot of the tools those experiments have explored — I'll give them that — and we can certainly make our characters complex and ambivalent and conflicted. But empirically, I'm seeing a lot more real stories being published and read than I am deconstructionist tomes.

Blandcorp 25 May 2015 at 20:42  
There's only one post-modernist you need— Borges

In regard to the post: the protagonist trope is alive and well. Not all stories use it (not now, not in other ages either), but it's clear who the protag is in any of a number of YA series, in the romance genre, in whodunnits, thrillers etc. Literary fiction isn't immune to this trope either, especially if it focuses on the experiences of one character (which doesn't have to be the narrator).

Everything turns more complicated with the advent of deconstruction, specifically different points of view.
You can argue for anything. It would however be a very pained and useless case to make that Katniss Everdeen isn't the protagonist of Hunger Games. Or that James Bond isn't the protagonist in his books.

In all reality, the ambiguity of identifying the protagonist rings truer to life.
Not really. It's very obvious to me that I'm the hero, and all of you are my spear carriers and supporting cast.

Now, that quote seems to have been cooked up to undermine the way stories are written— there is, in life, no major or minor character. God's Eye view, maybe. But down on the ground, from my eyes, it's clear who's number one. And so it is, presumably, from yours, only the protagonist's identity differs.

The trope of the protagonist, the story mythical skeleton, both hijack that. As long as you read this, they say, you are this character, and this is the life you have, or would have, or should have, or should aspire to— there's many functions for a story, including that of a myth/symbol of a life plan. And stories so constructed must make a claim as to the reader-placeholder in their universe. They do so through the protagonist.

Not all stories are written that way. Just the most durable ones

I'm kidding (half-so). But yeah. The human brain is older than postmodernism, and the neural mythical substrate requires a more informed handling than modern art, with its contempt for aesthetics, is ready to give it. May the pomo corpse be buried already, so that it may remain true to the only mythic function it can aspire to— a tribal mark for those who believe themselves special.



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