How To Find Out If Your Protagonist Is A Welcoming Host

Does your leading character lend inclusive energy to your writing? I am not at all saying that your protagonist needs to be likable, or even kind, but does their energy invite observation?

Just as you welcome valued guests into your living space, and seek to make them as comfortable as possible, so your protagonist, if your fiction is really good, must welcome and invite the reader into the world of your novel.

Common Mistakes, And How To Avoid Them

Something we often do as authors who are writing genre fiction is fall into the trap of the non-hosting, aloof, cool character. Now, don’t get me wrong, aloof characters are the bomb in genre fiction; nothing like a really competent adventurer or fighter quite hums along in science fiction or fantasy. The calm, clear-headed individual who keeps their secrets close to the vest is compelling, interesting, and just plain cool. This brings us to our first common error.

Mistake #1: Outside The House

The first mistake is to keep the reader outside the world of the novel. Authors do this when they are nervous about being taken seriously, or sometimes when they are intimidated by their own material.

Bad Writing (Reader on the outside):

Silas turned to the left, and then the to right. His hand hovered over the night-stick he carried, and then he shook his head and moved back into the shadows. After some time, he found a great hiding spot, and he waited. The sounds of the things he hunted passed silently away, and Silas stood, cautious, like a spider in the corner of a well-swept room. Anytime now, he thought. They’ll make a mistake soon. He returned home, and went to bed.

Good Writing (Reader on the inside):

Silas glanced left and right before darting across the dimly-lit highway. His purple night-stick, with which he had felled many overgrown carnivorous rabbits, bounced noiselessly against his side. He ducked into a shadow that lay behind a broken truck, and waited.

In a moment, the thumping of enormous bodies echoed down the interstate. Silas waited until the massive shadow of two great ears extended beyond the truck, and then he threw himself at the monstrous bunny, his purple night-stick in his fist.

When you are writing your science fiction or fantasy world, go back through the passages and check; does your protagonist invite the reader in, or keep them out? And think: What reader in their right mind would pay to stand outside an interesting fantasy world? Answer: Probably not any readers will pay for this privilege.

Mistake #2: Oversharing, Or Making The Reader Do The Dishes

The second common mistake in this vein is made when a writer shoves the menial work, the basic upkeep of the storytelling, onto the visiting reader. If you invited your most valuable guests into your home, like your boss, or your favorite celebrity, or that really cool kid who might turn out to be your new friend (you hope), would you feed them dinner and then shove a sponge into their laps, and tell them they’re washing up?

No, you would not do this! Why? Because it is completely counter-intuitive, and degrades the guest from a person of honor to an unpaid serf.

Tell me, how many readers do you think will pay for the privilege to co-write the book with you? Because that is essentially what you are doing when you expect your readers to clean up the details of your work.

Bad Writing (Reader does the dishes):

Silas smashed his stick over the skull of the bunny. He hoped he had exerted sufficient force to break through the bone, because he had found in the past that there were weak places in the bunny heads, and if he hit one exactly right, it would fall down, and he could slice it open with his knife. He really thought that if he could get enough rabbit blood on him, and spill it over the ground, the other bunnies would maybe get distracted, and he would be able to kill more now, instead of later.

Good Writing (You keep the dishes in the sink for later):

Silas brought his stick down in the head of the bunny, which shook him violently off. Silas flew through the air, and collided with another giant rabbit. This one was black and white, and had the most evil-looking red eyes he had ever seen.

Silas caught hold of the silky fur of the beast, and flipped himself onto its back. The black and white rabbit screamed an unearthly scream, and Silas smashed his purple stick down in exactly the right place in the back of the rabbit’s head. A crunching sound rewarded his efforts, and the bunny collapsed in a furry heap.

Mistake #3: Enmeshment, Or The Dreaded Absorption Into The Borg

The last mistake we will talk over today occurs when you fail to use normal boundaries. For the sake of brevity, I will show you what I mean, rather than elucidating at length.

Bad Writing (Enmeshment with the reader):

Silas felt at peace with the world as he skinned the enormous rabbit. He wouldn’t have to eat his stores of canned peas any longer. He hated peas, because they did horrible things to his digestion, and he had found a bargain of a stew cookbook in a trash bin yesterday. It smelled kind of like pee, and he suspected the rabbits had been using the dumpster as a waste area, but the last time he had tried to make rabbit stew it came out lumpy, and he had been pulling sinew out of his teeth for days.

Good Writing (Healthy boundaries):

Silas gloried in the silence that reigned in the dawn as he cut the enormous pelt from the dead rabbit. He had been meaning to replace his rabbit-skin boots for some time now, and the variated fur on this beast would make a striking pair.

Silas whistled through his teeth as he laid the skin aside, and began to carve choice cuts of meat from the body of the dead bunny. I’ll make that delicious stew, he thought, as he piled the bloody provisions in the lined bag he had brought for that purpose. And, he told himself, as he hefted the bloody pelt, and slung the meat over his shoulder, I won’t have to eat any more of those blasted canned peas.

And Also

As an extra treat, here is a picture of my cat, Rose, who has spent the last five minutes cautiously hunting a wasp that got into the house. She is a little younger than two years old, and believes she is a wild huntress of the night. I like her very much.

rose

You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. My books, which are hosted by Caleb, Samuel, and Ajalia, are here. It has been statistically proven that Friday is the best day of all to start reading The Slave from the East.

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