Wednesday, July 03, 2019

My biggest antagonist - creating a protagonist.

Pictured - First notes on the protagonist of VIRTUAL MACHINES - some details have changed.

Hey Writers, 

When last we met, we talked about protagonists, our hero characters. I do believe I threatened to start talking about my own work in progress again on the next go around, so here we are. 

So when I initially put pencil to notebook paper; I had a pretty thinly drawn plot that ran from point A to point Z, with maybe 20 letters missing in between, and I had a broad idea of what sort of protagonist I wanted. Keeping in mind that this was supposed to be a cyberpunk story, I was going the route of '40s noir crossed with '80s punk rock future. I was wrangling this idea of the taciturn tortured soul crossed with rebellious anti-social tendencies; Rick Deckard meets Henry Case. Too easy, too telegraphed, and far too derivative. 

Gears changed, and I started to gather some thoughts about what could make Nathan Zahir Roland (third stab, possibly not last at naming), my ex-military bodyguard a more interesting lead; 

- I wanted him to be multicultural - settled on Irish American Father and Saudi Arabian Mother. I didn't want to play the "stuck between two cultures" card, rather I wanted him to be a bit of a cultural chameleon. Mom being a diplomat, and Dad being a well-traveled political/war journalist, he spent much of his life in transit, but Dubai and Washington were home. He enlisted when he was young and eager, and wound up living in Korea, so he could also speak that language. So Korean-fluent Arab-American who physically had more of his Mother's genes, but psychologically, was all Irish Boston.

- I wanted him to be a professional - He wasn't jaded or cynical, fed up with his work, nor counter-culture or rebellious. At the end of his military career, he was an empathetic and disciplined instructor.  If not for being injured, he would easily have gone career. While not proud of war or violence, he was proud of his place, his work, and what he'd accomplished. 

- I wanted him to be a little tortured but in denial - He'd sustained pretty debilitating injuries that scarred his mind and his psyche and ended his career, but he refuses to acknowledge any form of PTSD or depression. He does his best to cope on a day to day basis, whether that's through the cathartic release of an isolation tank (facing himself) or by pouring himself into his work. His chronic pain forces him to walk with a cane, and sharp pains come and go, and yet the fact that he can become a man of action when the need arises suggests that some of his pain may be psychosomatic.

- I wanted him to be more everyman than superhero. Think John McClaine vs. James Bond. Skilled, sure, but not some black-ops Tom Clancy killing machine. Smart, capable, but ultimately a human character with a human thought process and human abilities. Sure, he'd grown up in an exceptional environment and received top-drawer education as a result, but that shouldn't make him any less grounded or human. 

Then I really got to thinking; what shapes us as individuals? Our parents, sure, but also the experiences and events that occur in our lifetimes. We are influenced by the world we grow up in. This is where things get a little nuts. 

Think about the year you were born, now think about the big global headlines or the big events that happened in each year since then. Not ALL the news that's fit to print, but the big shifts, the monumental deaths, the technological breakthroughs, the big things that alter perspective and how we interact with the world around us. There could be one or two a year, maybe it's the rise of the internet in 1996-1997, or the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, or Chernobyl or Challenger in 1986. Maybe it's the proliferation of the smartphone in 2007-2008. 

Nathan Zahir Roland was born on November 7th, 2012 (a date with personal significance) - What followed was chronicled year on year in a google docs document that wound up spanning April 2013 to 2048 - NOW (A nod to JC). This timeline had close on 200 entries covering everything from presidents to technology advances to moon colonies. It's all inspired by real-world events and real speculative science. This timeline gives me an idea, as the writer, of what kind of world Nathan inhabits, and how his worldview has been colored by what he's perceived and witnessed in his life. The idea is that the man I'm writing is now fully formed in my mind, shaped by his parents and the events he's lived through or witnessed. It also helps me build that world in which Nathan lives, even if I don't share every detail with the reader. I see it as an invaluable tool for sci-fi (or indeed even Fantasy), and could even be applied to a contemporary setting (we are shaped by what we witness after all).  I may include the timeline as part of an appendix when I'm eventually done this beast - we'll see. 

So there we go, overthinking it maybe? What's your process when it comes to creating your characters? Is it a few lines of text in a notebook? Character sheets? A name and not much else? Do you even have a name? 

Next time, I think I'll talk about exploding characters, and what happens when a single lead becomes an ensemble cast. 

Until next time, 

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