Vaughn Hardacker here.By definition the main character of any story is the one through whose eyes the reader experiences the story. It is the one around whom the problem of the story revolves. It is through the main character that we most closely identify.
Protagonist and antagonist are not point of view characters but are character functions. The protagonist is the one who is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal. The antagonist is all about preventing the protagonist from achieving the goal. In our own minds, protagonist represents our initiative – the motivation to affect change. Antagonist is our reticence – the motivation to maintain the status quo, or at least to return to it.
In writing a mystery or thriller the main character is not necessarily the main character; I would argue that in many cases it is the antagonist. Without the antagonist the protagonist has no reason to exist. It is the villain who drives the action, not our knight in silver armor. One of the creeds in mystery writing is: Drop the body as soon as possible. This means that before the protagonist acts, the antagonist has already been active. I have recently been toying with an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a couple of years now. The scenario is this: After leaving the court house where he’s just been divorced for
the fourth time, a retired hitman learns that his financial manager has stolen his money, leaving him destitute. I’m still trying to decide which way to go. Does he remain retired and attempt to regain his financial worth? Does he do what he knows and return to his former trade? Is he the protagonist or the antagonist (maybe anti-hero is a better choice of words)? More importantly, who will be the main character? Of course there is also the marketing question: Will readers buy a novel in which the main character is a hired killer?
I have decided to go ahead and start writing, letting the story decide who is the main character. I have learned that when I select my protagonist as my main character, I end up with a stereotypical hero–a character who grapples with the moral issue, represents the reader/audience point of view, and is also leading the charge in the logistics of the plot. In most novels and movies it is the antagonist who drives the plot. But, the main character can be anyone. In Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes novels, Rhymes is clearly the protagonist, however the main character is Amelia Sachs (who might be mistaken as being a supporting character) . Amelia is Rhymes eyes on site and it is through her eyes that the reader experiences the action as well as the character with whom the reader identifies.
In the course of writing I usually find that my characters will define their own roles. I have also been that I write better villains than I do heroes. Maybe because I am prone toward writing reluctant heroes (i. e. John Bear in WENDIGO) whereas my villains are in no way reluctant to commit their crimes.
Who is your main character? Do you have a single main character? Does your main character change from chapter to chapter?
Have you read Lawrence Block’s Hit Parade? A hit man can make an intriguing protagonist. I’m glad you’re going to go for it.
I have read Block’s hitman stories, but for some reason did not recall them. (It’s been years.) Ido recall how he was able to make his anti-hero look like the good guy in spite of his profession. Thanks.
Yes, readers will accept a main character who is a hitman. He’s already got a lot of history with 4 divorces behind him! To keep marrying like that he probably has a positive outlook on life, a will to live, if you will.
Martha Grimes has a hitwoman in one of her books. You first meet her when she’s having dinner in a posh restaurant in Paris. For a semi-walk-on character you get a lot of backstory. Then she shows up again when you least expect her. I’d read a whole book just about her because of her attitude toward her work and her throwaway lines as she departs.
Thanks Monica. I’ll have to check out Grimes books.