Monday, April 23, 2012

A Wounded Protagonist

Saturday, I spent hours at a special New Jersey Romance Writers workshop listening to Michael Hauge's talk on story structure. It was a fantastic lecture interspersed with film clips. I took plenty of notes, and it is taking me a while to absorb all of the presentation. However, one of Michael Hauge's points has really stuck with me. He discussed giving the hero (or heroine) a wound--something from the distant past that has affected the protagonist deeply. As an example, Mr. Hauge showed a clip from the movie L.A. Confidential in which Russell Crowe's character talks about a horrible incident in his childhood. That scene defines the character, lending him empathy, but also adding an emotional punch which would not be there if the viewer did not know what makes the character tick.

I've always found it difficult to wound my heroines. I don't like to hurt people, but--as Michael Hauge pointed out--all of us are wounded in some way. Everyone has defense mechanisms in place by the time they are adults. All of us hide some of our true selves.

Mr. Hauge's left us with a statement to fill in for our protagonist, "I'll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal, just don't ask me to ________, because that's just not me."

If our characters are to succeed, they must go beyond their fears. That is courage. They must reveal their true selves because that is where their strength lies.

Then Mr. Hauge asked all of us not only to use his statement for our character, but to question ourselves.


Irene said...

So, we have to keep our characters semi-pathetic in order to fulfill this need for wounds?
Oh, yes, they have to overcome these internal conflicts...why can't we just let a character or two be whole and good and pleasant to be around? Then they have nothing inside them to fight against in order to assist the other main character in his/her quest.
This is sort of a pity as there just may be people in the real world who aren't wounded but do much good. Is that really possible or must everybody be hurting?

Penelope Marzec said...


I haven't met anyone--yet--who did not come with some baggage. If someone told me they had no troubles I wouldn't believe them.

A wound--or old baggage--makes the hero or heroine more real to the reader. It also makes the hero or heroine more vulnerable. Superman had Kryptonite. Achilles had his heel. They weren't perfect, but they were more courageous because they had a weak spot.

MarkD60 said...

That sounds like an interesting lecture even for a non writer. Us readers need to learn your tricks anyway..

Ciara said...

I have no problem torturing my characters. LOL. I use to worry about it, but now I probably torture them too much. Love Michael Hage's workshops.

Penelope Marzec said...

The tortured hero and heroine are classic. Feel free to throw lots of obstacles at them. :^)

So glad I went to the workshop. It gave me lots of ideas.

Lita said...

It was one of the best workshops I have ever attended. I am still reviewing my notes and working through my story concept because I came home with so many new ideas based on the information he presented.