Okay, now that we’ve gotten into some form of rhythm with this blog thing, let’s revisit a concept we introduced a few posts ago – Deconstructing the Novel, where go behind the scenes of our first published novel, The Shattered Visage Lies, to answer questions, give novel writing advice, and discuss some of the concepts within the book. Last installment, we discussed what the title means, or at least what it means to us. For this installment, we’ll shed some light on what we’ve been hearing about the protagonist and antagonist – Michael and Marvin. Don’t know who they are because you haven’t read the book yet? Don’t worry, feel free to take a moment to grab yourself a copy, in print or eVersion to peruse. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Have it? Read it? Good. Let’s move on.
First of all, as you have now learned from reading the book in one sitting, the novel is an ensemble piece. In it, nine different people discover they have super powers. For the most part, we go over the discovery, exploration, and development of these abilities in detail for most of these characters, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that we have a definitive protagonist or antagonist. However, Michael and Marvin stand out as those concepts, respectively. Interestingly enough, these two are also usually the least favorite character and most favorite character, respectively. And we did that on purpose.
“What? You purposely made your protagonist the reader’s least favorite character?” Yes, we did. I want to remind you, though, that he’s not a detestable character. He’s just someone who can be likeable one moment, and then a jerk the next. Just like all of us. We are all the protagonists in our own individual stories. None of us are liked by every secondary character in our own individual stories. That is what we want to reflect with Michael. He’s a regular person, just like all of us, doing his own thing, just like all of us. He can be nice, he can be a jerk; he can be likeable, he can be not likeable. Just like all of us. When we follow up the “Who is the least likeable character?” question with “Who is the most relatable character?” the answer to that is usually Michael.
Michael is the reluctant hero of the story. Most reluctant heroes of popular stories are so because they lack confidence, usually because of doubt that is bred by the inexperience of youth. I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker. That is certainly relatable to anyone. However, we wanted to explore a different, yet relatable, reason for Michael’s reluctance – comfort. We all get frothing-at-the-mouth fussy when the cable company changes the channels on us. We’re red-raging and ready to turn to Yelp, Facebook, Reddit, the Better Business Bureau, and/or a voodoo witch doctor because The Food Network is now channel 48 when it was channel 47 just yesterday. None of us want to change our routine because of forces beyond our control, and we certainly don’t want to take on added responsibility if we don’t think it’s at least congruous with what we’re sacrificing. Neither does Michael. He’s a man in his mid-thirties who has everything he wants in life. Sure, he’s a bit spoiled in regards to certain things, and he sometimes doesn’t filter the words between his brain and his mouth, but he loves his family; his wife and his daughter are his world. Gaining a new, very powerful new ability means he now has to learn how to use it, and be involved with a whole new community of people he’d rather not associate with. This new ability means change. It means a disruption in his routine. A sacrifice he doesn’t want to make. These burdens make him fussy. Just like the rest of us.
When we talked about the direction that we wanted this book to take it was clear very early on that Brian and I were both interested in creating a likeable antagonist…it’s just fun. We had a few ideas about how we could accomplish that, but as we hashed through them, tossing them aside like dandelions from a spring bouquet, a very obvious solution surfaced. If we simply make the character relatable to the reader, then even when the necessary philosophical issues arise, the character can remain true to himself, which also keeps him believable.
Quite simply, then, Marvin was born. Overworked, underappreciated Marvin who is surpassed by those half his age for one inconsequential reason or another. A dreary routine has taken the pep from his step and a stagnant lifestyle has taken a stranglehold on his view of the future. Marvin in a nutshell. Possibly he has the power to improve himself, but not to affect all of the forces around him that would need to be bent to his will in order to create real change. Until one day…
As Marvin develops his powers, he uses them to improve his lot in life, enhance his interest in things, most notably his marriage, and wreak a little bit of revenge on a few people who, quite frankly, don’t necessarily do much to warrant sympathy at their plight. All the while still walking that tightrope of relatability to the empathetic reader. While Michael is whining and bemoaning and remaining passive, Marvin becomes an all action kind of guy…sort of a fantasy fulfiller…or that is our hope anyway.
Gradually, of course, he becomes more and more despicable and the dichotomy between good and evil replaces some of his relatability with the reader, but the roots are still there because the character can remain true to himself even as he becomes less “human.”
It was an interesting experiment in characterization and Brian and I are often intrigued by reader’s comments about Marvin and what the future holds for him. Do you need a Marvin fix or are you hoping to explore new villainy? For now, it’s still shrouded in mystery, but later this year all will be revealed.