Writing Prompt: Fleshing Out Your Protagonist
Posted on June 4, 2013
Exploring my protagonist’s true feelings is hard labor. In this particular manuscript Max hides his feelings as much from me as he does from himself and his fellow characters. I force him to come out and show himself by pulling him into situations he hates. This way I explore the most likely and most believable behavior, acts and moves.
For this exercise I used the writing prompt: Describe a time when you’ve settled an argument between two close friends.
I watch them bicker. I know why they fight, but I can’t help them. It’s time that works against them, not their friendship. Time and the second batch of their endeavours that turned out a disaster. The tension between them built since their first failed crop. It got worse when they set out, bought new seeds and had to wait an agonizing six weeks to only find out they failed again. I’ve secretly visited their hidden grow-op. It looks good. Humidity was fine, air circulation was okay. They use fresh water, had their lamps hanging a perfect two feet above the plants. And now they fight.
I step back into my room and close the door. They don’t even notice that I’m gone. They yell at each other, or rather Lizzy yells at Venus. About nothing. A dress. One of Venus’ dresses. Lizzy tells her to quit wearing them, to quit attracting attention, start acting like a normal person and not some retard hippie girl from the sixties. Her voice echoes through the marble hall. Venus cries. She doesn’t understand. She always dressed like a hippie.
It’s not about the dress. It’s Lizzy’s frustration about the lost crop, about how Venus accepts defeat and wants to move on and be happy. It clashes with Lizzy’s determination to succeed at all cost.
I switch on the music, turn up the volume. One of Venus’ favorites and I hope she hears it. I want her to stop crying. I need her happy again, so she can steel herself against Lizzy’s overpowering presence. But she loves Lizzy too much. I know Lizzy’s anger will seep into her system as a dark spot on her heart that will grow like a tumor and eventually kill her.
The front door slams and all that’s left is heart-breaking sobs. I rush out and take Venus in my arms. It takes half a record before she calms. She leans into me, exhausted. Bright blue mascara smudged her face. I kiss her on the forehead.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her, Max,” she says.
“You can stay here,” I tell her. “Jimmy and I will be out all night. You can use my room, keep an eye on things while we’re gone.” I hesitate. “Promise you’ll stay away from the weed floor, okay? We’ve got a bunch of ace sprouts that I haven’t counted and bedded out yet.”
She looks up at me and I see how the seed I planted already germinates. “Promised,” she whispers.
My protagonist is evasive, doesn’t like getting into fights and arguments. And every time I think I have him he tries to shake me off. He won’t succeed, though. Soon after this episode in my manuscript he will have to step up and act, and not in the passive-agressive way he did here. He will have to show his true colors.
The prompt came from The Writer’s Block, 768 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination…