Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Character Types: Deuteragonists and Tritagonists

What happens when a leading character is not the protagonist?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, we looked at protagonist and main character. (Check it out here for a refresher on what a protagonist is. I’ll be talking about it a lot.) If you’ll recall, there is only one protagonist in a story. But most stories have multiple characters who are major players in the plot. How does that work?

Two Kinds of Deuteragonists

There are actually lots of roles that deuteragonists can fill, but they all tend to fall within two major types: leaders of their own plots and support for the protagonist.
These are the characters that are often mislabeled as additional protagonists. They legitimately drive their plotlines on their own. However, the plotline they are driving happens to be secondary to the main plotline that the protagonist is driving. If it’s hard to tell which is which, look at the climax of the whole story, the biggest, most important moment in the book. The deuteragonist’s actions may move pieces toward this event, but the protagonist is directly responsible for it.
This could be a lover, sidekick, relative, or teammate of the protagonist. They work so closely with them that it’s hard to separate their plotlines because they end up running simultaneously—or so it seems. The protagonist is the leader, the one calling the shots. Even when the deuteragonist appears to be working side-by-side with them instead of following, when you break down their actions, one will emerge as the first to act or the one steering major decisions.


This one is very simple. As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, the tritagonist is the third major player. They follow the same forms as deuteragonists, just one more level removed from the protagonist. Most stories don’t go past these three since things get more complicated as you add more major storylines. However, in very complex plots, it’s possible to have multiple deuteragonists or tritagonists who aren’t quite the main drivers of the story but are essentially equal to each other.

Still a Main Character

It’s important to note that both deuteragonists and tritagonists can be and often are main characters. Being secondary to the protagonist is mostly useful for examining plot movement. It’s not about the most interesting or strongest character or the most page time; it’s a matter of mechanics. In fact, in one of my stories, my deuteragonist technically has a slightly higher word count in his point of view than my protagonist does.

What do I do with this?

Much like the main character vs protagonist label, determining the protagonist vs deuteragonist can help you focus on plotting effectively. You want the right character’s actions to line up with when you want your climax to happen. If you set up your protagonist at the start but focus on the deuteragonist for the climax, readers may feel shortchanged. That may seem obvious, but when both are main characters, it can be easy to accidentally swap roles in the story.
It’s also important that deuteragonists complement the protagonist's journey, rather than distract from it. If the deuteragonist’s—or worse, the tritagonist’s—story is more interesting than the protagonist’s you may want to examine if you’re telling the right story or version of that story.

Join us the week after next as we finish off this series with the characters below tritagonists: secondary and tertiary characters. As for next week, look out for our interview with Diane Anthony about her upcoming release The Rare.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Character Types: Protagonists, Main Characters, and Heroes

How are they different, and why does it matter?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
A couple weeks ago, we talked about the difference between villains and antagonists. Now let’s look at their opposites: protagonists, main characters, and heroes. First, let’s define these character types.

Main Character

This is simply the character whose eyes the story is told through. A story can have multiple main characters, although most have only one or two. They can sometimes be called a point-of-view character. In a story with several point-of-view characters, the main character or characters are the ones whose view is shown for most of the scenes.


Protagonists are like the immortals from Highlander—in any story, there can be only one. This singular character is the one whose actions and key decisions drive the plot. Their choices move the story forward. A protagonist must act; they must affect either their world or themself.


There are many definitions for heroes, but for our purposes, they are the opposite of a villain: someone of good intent who seeks to save or better their world.

Aren’t those the same thing?

They can be, but no, not really. Many stories have separate protagonists and main characters, and neither are necessarily heroes. Much like villain antagonists, it’s easy to find heroic protagonists who are also main characters: Robin Hood, Batman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter.
However, those examples don’t tell us much. The importance in knowing the difference between the three is best demonstrated by looking at stories with separate protagonists, main characters, and heroes.
Holmes & Watson
One of the most well-known pairings of a separate protagonist and main character is Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson. Holmes is the protagonist; he is the master detective, and his journey to solve the mystery drives the plot. But Dr. Watson is the main character; it is through his eyes only that we see Holmes, and his observations color the narrative.
By observing Sherlock Holmes from the outside, both the mystery to be solved and the almost mythical intrigue around his intellect are preserved. Using a different main character can be ideal for mysterious or larger-than-life protagonists because of the distance created between the protagonist and the audience.
Edmond Dantes
The Count of Monte Cristo has Edmond Dantes as both the protagonist and main character, but by the definition we’re using, he isn’t a hero. His goal is revenge; he seeks to destroy the lives of everyone who betrayed him.
Anti-heroes or even villain protagonists can make for rich storytelling. In some cases, the protagonist learns to be a better person, and in others, the story may ultimately be about the protagonist’s downfall.

So What?

For readers, knowing who the protagonist is and who the main character is will tell you whose story you’re reading and who’s telling it. When someone else is telling the protagonist’s story, there’s usually a reason why. Think about what you see differently from that character’s perspective.
For writers, identifying your protagonist is vital to clear storytelling. Most writers know their main character well because that’s the voice they’ve chosen to write in. But the protagonist can be less obvious, and misidentifying the protagonist can derail an entire story. Since the protagonist’s actions drive the plot from one act to another, planning the story around the wrong character’s actions can ruin the pace of an otherwise good story as important points like the climax happen too early or too late.

Only one protagonist?

But what about the other important characters who matter to the plot? To find out, join us next week as we discuss deuteragonists.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Interview with C. Bradley Owens

We are so excited about your book release! Let's learn a little more about your novel.
What inspired you to write The First Story?
I guess the initial inspiration came from my love of fairy tales. I really like the old tales; the ones before the modern age got a hold on them. I liked the combination of reality and fantasy that they represented. There was darkness, with a purpose, and a moral to the story. I think when we sanitize them for the sake of children or because they make us uncomfortable then something is lost.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Disney version of fairy tales that I grew up with, that we all grew up with, are wonderful. There is just a different tone to them. The old tales are mysterious and dangerous. When I first started learning the old version, I was fascinated by them. The First Story is kinda my attempt to create a modern feeling, old tone fairy tales.
I love the Disney classics too--but they adapted the original fairy tales as well. Did you research the origins or histories of any fairy tales as part of writing The First Story?
Yes, I studied some Irish folktales and stories in college. Those stories got me interested in Celtic mythology. I read a bunch of old fairytale stories that were dark and suspenseful and just so engaging. I was fascinated by characters that inspired Snow White, but these characters had stories that were so very different. It got me thinking about modern stories, the stories we’ve created. They’re in novels and movies and t.v., but they are fairy tales, or at least the essence of fairy tales. I wondered what characters we have created, and will create, that are archetypes in our world. So, my characters are a mixture of old archetypes and new ones and fake ones and potential ones.

Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story?
My intent with the theme was to talk about marginalization, which is centered around many of the characters, especially Matt and John. Some of the fantasy characters deal with marginalized people too, and using them to explore the theme brought me to a place where I discussed the forces that create marginalized populations.

I wanted to write tales that spoke to a modern audience. Whereas Red Riding Hood warned children about the dangers of strangers, I wanted something like the Puppeteer teaching us a lesson about the dangers of isolation. The modern world, with all the technology, is conditioned to separate us, even though the purpose of social media was to connect us. The overall theme of the fantasy aspect sort of became the dangers of that segmented reality as I talked about the causes of marginalization.
Who is your favorite character?
I’m mostly drawn to the Dottere. He’s a plague doctor with the mask that looks like a bird’s beak. I like the dichotomy of a doctor in such a terrifying outfit coming out of the dark to “help” desperate people. The first image I ever saw of a plague doctor was in an old sci-fi tv show when I was very young and I never forgot it. It was one of those things where I wondered how the people of the times related to the image. I thought that maybe they didn’t have the connotation that we have with it. We associate the figure with death and suffering, but maybe they saw it as redemption and hope. I couldn’t see how that was possible, but I don’t know, maybe.

It’s kinda how I view clowns. I tried to write a character that was a clown, but not a scary clown. I found it impossible. And I wondered about that with our culture. I spent some of my formative years near Chicago. There were two competing versions of clowns around me at that time—Bozo and John Wayne Gacy. I remember when I was very young that I adored Bozo and the show. I would practice the games they played just in case Bozo invited me on the show one day, but that changed after the John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown, case. I was far too young to know anything about the case, but I somehow still got the idea that clowns were now somehow frightening. I think that’s why the Dottore speaks to me. I don’t have the same association that the people of the time had, but I still feel the impact of whatever association they created. It speaks to culture and society and how all of the different parts speak to each other across the ages.
Dottore reminds me of the commedia del’arte character, Dottore (who is also a doctor). How did you craft your world?
There are two worlds in the book. There’s the “real” world where Matt and John live. It is supposed to be based on a typical suburban town. I tried to make it generic enough to stand in for everything from a town near a metropolitan area to one that was rural. I wanted that word to be just a representation of as many American experiences as I could make it.

The fantasy world was a different matter. I wanted it to center on a setting that I find interesting in so many fairy tales--the woods. So many fairy tales take place in or near a forest, which was alternatively, depending on the type of tale, a scary place or a place of refuge. I loved that dichotomy--safety and danger wrapped up in a bunch of trees. And in that world I wanted all of the representatives of my modern fairy tales as I could get. I wanted them walking down paths, meeting at inns, going on quests, discovering new parts, all of that. And I wanted the world to be ethereal, fragile, just like ideas.
Who are your favorite authors?
I get asked this a lot, being an English teacher, and I always find it difficult to answer. I typically have favorite books rather than authors. I suppose the author I have read the most would be Stephen King. I was a bit obsessed with him in high school. The author I’ve studied the most would be C.S. Lewis. I wrote my Master’s thesis on him, so I’ve read multiple books by him too.

Now books, I have several favorites. I fell in love with Wuthering Heights the minute I read it as an undergrad. The tone and mood of that novel was so luscious. It made me want to wander around the moors feeling all moody and such. I used to read it once a year around September, just to put me in the mood for the winter months. Along with Bronte, another writer who evokes the same feelings with me is Diane Setterfield. Her The Thirteenth Tale was a gem I discovered that added to my Wuthering Heights addiction.

The one book that I fell in love with from C.S. Lewis was probably one of his least known books, Till We Have Faces. I adored the way he retold the Cupid and Psyche myth from the viewpoint of Psyche’s older sister. It was such an interesting take and was done so well.

I could go on and on with books I fell in love with and authors I admire, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Augesten Burroughs, David Sedaris, and I like each one for very different reasons. Hemingway and Burroughs both have an economy of language that I love, O’Connor has a courage that I long for, and Sedaris possesses an easy comedic voice that isn’t forced or awkward.
What can we expect next from you?
One of the ideas behind the structure of The First Story was to create self-contained stories that could serve as inspiration for longer works. I truly set out to put to paper every little idea I had in regards to stories. So, that’s what I’m working on. I took one of the stories and am developing it into a larger work. I also have an idea for a sequel to The First Story, which will tackle the theme of social justice in the same way that the first dealt with marginalization. I think I am farther along planning the sequel, so I expect that one to be the next thing.

The First Story
By C. Bradley Owens
Matt lives to write stories. And those stories might be the only thing keeping his best friend alive after school bullies brutally attack him for being gay. At the side of John’s hospital bed, Matt weaves together tales in the hopes of waking him from his coma before it’s too late...
Storytelling itself comes to life in the world of Creativity. When unexpected changes cause chaos there, personified character archetypes known as Aspects must find the source before everything they know is lost. They suspect that someone has stolen the most powerful thing in all of Creativity: the First Story. But who is powerful enough to wield it?
Follow the Aspects as they journey through an ever-changing series of folktales, ghost-stories, tragedies, comedies, classic fantasy, and modern science fiction to piece the clues together. If the Aspects cannot trust in reality—or even their own memories—can they work together to find the thief and restore their world?
The First Story will be available on Amazon as an ebook or as print on demand starting November 18, 2018.

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