Monday, July 23, 2012

The relationship between protagonists and their writers

The question that sparked this post was "Are protagonists what their writer wishes they were or even what they are?". By this it could be seen that the writing of a protagonist is a form of self exploration and revelation. But my answer to this question is no, not really. The relationship between and author and their protagonist is far more complex than that, not to mention their relationship with the other characters in their stories.

Writing is cathartic in a way, in that you can express a lot of the pent up thoughts and emotions you otherwise find to impolite to reveal, but that doesn't mean that what you write necessarily has a direct relation to what is causing you to think or feel in a certain way. A writer might be angry over something, grief stricken or even tortured with indecision, for example, and have no one they can talk to about these issues. Thoughts build, the mind wanders and a story pops into mind that just begs to be written. And within that story is a range of characters. (This is one example of how a story comes into being but there are, of course, many others. Some far less organic.)

Of the characters that are formed in the mind of the writer there are some that are wholly born of the imagination, with little to no research involved and barely a flicker of more logical creation (as brought about when you're trying to find a character to fit a certain role). These characters are the ones that are the most related to the writer's own personality as they are born directly from the writer's mind. Yet in the range of characters you will find good, bad, righteous, ugly, cowardly, brave, foolhardy, ignorant, close minded, open hearted, learned, sexy, disturbing and mentally broken people. Which is the writer? Your first option for identifying the writer as a character is by saying they're the protagonist but what if the protagonist is a gung-ho army man and the writer is a tiny woman with a family of five who spends most of her day tapping away on a keyboard?

The relationship between a writer and a protagonist isn't straightforward. There isn't so much wishful thinking as there is exploration or sympathetic identification and even that is stretching the buck when it comes to the antihero protagonist.

So what is really going on is more a form of dreaming where every character written has some reflections of the writer but none have the entire writer revealed through them. All the good, bad, righteous, ugly, cowardly, brave, foolhardy, ignorant, close minded, open hearted, learned, sexy, disturbing and mentally broken characters share something with the writer as they are all understandable enough to the writer to be written in the first place. It is nearly (only added nearly as someone may have done it, possibly) impossible to write a character without any correlating features or characteristics as your own. You could push the boundary with writing everything as the opposite but then all you get is a reverse reflection so that the good and bad are swapped, leaving the impression that there is something oddly familiar about the character.

To find the writer in the story is to read the story as a whole, pull every possible meaning, hint, characteristic, personality, event, reaction and thought from the book and remould it into a piece of the writer, then continue reading any other work they've ever written and hope that eventually you'll have enough overlapping pieces to figure out which are the most dominant features of the author and which aren't. Then and only then, can you say that you know part of the author. But as a reader only, you'll never know the author entirely by reading their works. And assigning the writer as the protagonist is just delusional.

The gift of this is that there is an endless array of reflections of humanity out there, not simply a list of writers as protagonists. The characters in books reveal aspects of humanity, what it means to exist and what we experience along the way. Through this we can learn to form methods of identifying with those we'd otherwise struggle to connect with. We can pass on information, so much so that a person reading works written centuries ago can see that the essence of what it is to be human hasn't changed all that much over the years. This lets you think that maybe it hasn't changed much since we first evolved as humans. That there might not be that many differences between our experiences and that of apes. In essence, connections are born of writing, connections that allow us to see the individual, the global, the historical and the entirety of creation depending on the mindset we're in when reading.

So writing a protagonist as yourself isn't exactly a bad thing but it does defeat the purpose of fiction, which is to bend the mind to realise our realities. Whether a writer starts out intending to bend the reader's mind or starts out simple to entertain or vent is neither here nor there really. That only works as a partial guide to distinguish between literature and fiction. A distinction I argue in many cases.

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