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Day 144: Who's My Protagonist?

I seem to have a running problem with my writing. As you may recall, I had an epiphany back in October with my screenplay/novel Nightfalls wherein I discovered my protagonist was not my protagonist. That same problem has surfaced yet again with my screenplay Come Ups. Maybe.

I have been dealing with a number of issues on the protagonist front since the beginning of this project. I always had it in mind that Shep was the protagonist, but early on Grady was overshadowing him. Most of the rewrites to this point have been to bolster Shep and put the focus on him. That has worked for the most part, but he's still not a particularly strong hero. It doesn't help that he doesn't really want to be in this situation and just wants it to go away. This lowers his stakes and makes him simply too inactive to carry the story.

This may be why I've been struggling with the pivotal scene near the end of the second act when Reydel comes looking for his money and takes Grady and his family hostage. Reydel has very high stakes. He's the one looking to be an up and comer. He's the one who lost the money and the drugs. His family is at risk if he doesn't find either or both. He's the one being threatened directly by the corrupt sheriff. His neighbors and friends are turing against him. He's the one who HAS to act or else. Reydel is the protagonist. I think.

It's interesting how a story progresses. You think you understand it and are progressing toward the end as you conceived it, but somewhere along the way the story begins to take on a life of it's own. Too often you become blind to what is clearly in front of you because that's not what you intended, so you keep forcing the story to align to your own precepts and then you suddenly discover you have all kinds of problems that you can't seem to resolve. It doesn't always happen that way, sometimes it turns out exactly as you envisoned. But if you run into problems that you can't quite figure out, you might want to step back and look at the story from another angle, a different perspective.

That's what I did with Come Ups. I asked myself, who has the most to lose? The answer is two-fold both Reydel and Sheriff Hiram. Hiram is clearly not the protagonist. He is the villain, the antagonist, so that leaves Reydel. It is also Reydel who makes decisions and actively seeks to resolve the situation. In doing so, he must take on Shep and his friends. That makes him an antagonist toward Shep, which is where it gets confusing, but in the overall order of the story, he is the protagonist caught between Hiram and Shep. He must get the money from Shep in order to save his family from Hiram.

So, it's back to the drawing board for some script restructuring. Most of the elements are already in place. I'm hoping the rewrites won't be extensive, just some shifting of focus. The next week will be critical in righting this ship and getting it to sail in the direction I want.


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