Thursday, 29 April 2010

Agents of Change

I've already talked about apostolic fiction on this blog, whereby the hero must have someone to tell his story. In this post I discuss the idea of the playmaker, someone who makes things happen for the hero.

It's a common belief that not only must a protagonist have a desire, but that he must also have the means within himself to satisfy that desire. He may think he wants something but actually needs something else, he may not even know what he wants – but still, there must be a goal that the reader wants for him.

When watching a recent re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet story, it struck me that although the main characters have bags of desire, they lack the means to do anything about it. They rely on two characters to do it for them – the nurse and the friar – to arrange meetings, marriages, subterfuge, potions. Interestingly, this reliance ends up having fatal consequences.

It's not necessary for the hero to have the capacity to satisfy his desire, providing he has someone who can do it for him. This creates an interesting dynamic within a story – it's hard to imagine sympathy for someone who completely relies on someone else. Historically this relationship has been interpreted as a master-servant one – an amusing/ignorant/clever/poor but practical person of the lower orders assists their social superior in attaining their wants – this is a relationship that Shakespeare explores many times in his plays. P.G. Wodehouse subverted this with Jeeves and Wooster to great comic effect.

So the lesson for fiction writers is that it's quite possible that someone else will make the hero's dreams come true, but I wouldn't recommend it as a life strategy.


  1. Good point about Romeo + Juliet. And it can make for very passive characters - characters who sit around and wait for the next event to arrive, which they then react to. Far more interesting to be the go-between, who may then be sucked into the story and changed by it.

  2. Love the sound of the novel your working on by the way, Roz - let us know when it's available for public consumption!

  3. Thanks :) It'll be a while yet! I have just rewritten the beginning yet again... But it's gestating intensively now and starting to think for itself, so things are getting exciting...