Wednesday, November 19, 2014
And on Those We Love to Love: Protagonists
So I’ve shared my thoughts on antagonists—what about the challenge of creating a three-dimensional PROtagonist? I have run into this issue throughout my work and have witnessed the struggle peers endure while trying to merge credibility with the heroic qualities that protagonists are often expected to live up to.
For me it can be a walk on a tight rope. In my first work, Secrets of the Tudor Court, Mary Howard is a protagonist and victim of abuse. I explore her skewed thinking based on how being raised by a narcissist father beating her mother may affect her emotional processes and choices. I fashioned her as sweet, yet balanced her anguished tenderness against the disillusionment with the at-times fatal court intrigues. In my interpretation of her life, this helped add a jaded quality to her as she aged. In Secrets' . . . companion piece, Rivals in the Tudor Court, the tightrope lost its net. Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, his wife Elizabeth, and his mistress Bess are a strange mixture of pro- and antagonists. They are flawed, some blatantly so, but in my portrayal, I illustrated the massive struggles they were up against, within themselves, and with the man they loved (Norfolk included in his own self-love). No easy task, but to date, that challenge remains my favorite of my Tudor novels, I must admit, because of the dynamics of these three complex individuals.
My third work, The Sumerton Women, includes characters of my own creation to highlight the British Reformation; the event itself could be called pro or antagonist dependent on one’s personal stand. Cecily Burkhart is the unmitigated protagonist, with a few good folks backing her up. She has also been my most critiqued character. Cecily is presented as good, no doubt; evolving her as she aged into a strong, independent woman who owned her mistakes was how I infused her with the qualities of those I know in “real life”—good people despite and because of their flaws. Indeed, they do exist!
Of my Tudor novels, my most difficult protagonist proved to be “my” Margaret Tudor. She is a toughie, that little redhead! Developing her was standing on a craggy Scottish highland, gazing into the sky at the unyielding brown-eyed gaze of feisty, determined, yet troubled glory. Margaret was thrown into Scotland, its queen as a young teen, expected to rule, breed, and defend the crown, while remaining true to her English Tudor roots as best she could. A heady task for a headstrong woman. Margaret was, in my estimation, ruled by her fiery Sagittarian heart, which led to poor choices. Can a protagonist be a true protagonist while exercising the poor judgment our lovely Queen of Scots did so many times? Of course, says I! That’s what made her a protagonist. She tried. She fell. She got up. She fell again. And again and again. But kept on trying. And (spoiler alert), though her life did not go as planned or hoped, Margaret drew on her own unique brand of strength and still wore her crown, head held high.
I have works up my sleeve these days, in which I hope to keep growing in my building of complex protagonists. As a writer, creating characters are like birthing children—you don’t quite know what you’re going to get, but you’re going to love the heck out of ‘em regardless. In the best of worlds, protagonists can be balanced, raw, and real—flawed, but still embraced. And, hopefully, adored.