Updates sporadically.

Friday, March 21, 2014

But is it worth it?

I read somewhere that some stories need to be written but don't need be read. They burn inside the author, wanting to be put to paper -- but are not meant to move on. They aren't meant to be published or consumed.

The idea irritated me. It may have been the context in which I read this pronouncement -- an agent reviewing a query declared that the main character was unsympathetic and appalling, and therefore not read-worthy -- but it got stuck in my brain, itching and making me uncomfortable until I had time to sit down and pick at it.* It's similar to feedback I've seen stating that some authors choose the wrong protagonist.** It makes me wonder -- what makes a story worth writing? How can we judge if a story is worth the effort, or if we're just coming at a story from an entirely wrong angle?


It's a fine line to walk: picking the interesting protagonist risks falling into the much dreaded, oft overused "The One" trope. You need a protagonist who is interesting, engaging and, most importantly, important to the plot. You protagonist should be able to effect the events and outcomes of the story -- they should have an active role in how the story develops. But that doesn't mean they need to be the good guy or that they need to be the President of the Universe. Your MC can be a crappy person -- they can even be Vice President.***

Because who wouldn't want to read about this guy? (Photo courtesy of The Onion)

In comes down to a simple matter of taste. Just because one person doesn't find your story worthwhile doesn't mean it is worthless. Look at Under a Wide and Starry Sky, the novel making the rounds right now that's about Robert Louis Stevenson's wife. Did you know her name? Did you even know he was married? Did you know he was married to an American? The fact is, Ms. Fanny Stevenson was a supporting character in history, but her story is still worth telling.

What determines whether a story is worth writing is not whether or not the protagonist is sympathetic or the most interesting person: it's whether the story has movement, whether the protagonist is a dynamic, living, effective person. If not, then it's not much of a story at all.****



*Also, ew to this metaphor.
** Frozen has been getting this a lot, for example. 
***Not hating on "Diamond" Joe Biden, folks. I think he's pretty much hilarious.
****Even one of the most infamous plotless novels has a dynamic (annoying, whiny, want-to-punch-in-the-face-y) protagonist -- yes, I'm talking about you Catcher in the Rye.

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