Last time we talked about The Wound and how this wound is what drives a character and his or her choices. But here is the thing, almost always the protagonist has no clue they even have a wound and that is because of the blind spot.
The blind spot is a critical reason most people read fiction. Fiction acts as almost a holodeck, playing out the human drama. Fiction is real life….only with the boring crap cut out. Self-actualization happens in less than 300 pages. It is why we dig stories.
We might see ourselves in a character and when the character finally notices the blind spot and sees and acknowledges the wound? They are doing it for us as well. We see how they struggle and then triumph and it gives us insight into ourselves. It gives us information, inspiration and maybe even some hope that we aren’t all lost causes.
****A note of irony. I wrote most of this post early this morning before the gym then as I was leaving? A guy backed into me because I was in his….wait for it….BLIND SPOT (my vehicle above). I can’t make this crap up. But hell we are writers so WE USE EVERYTHING!
Where were we? Oh yes….
The Protagonist DOES NOT SEE the Blind Spot
Namely because if the protagonist does see the blind spot? Then blind spot is a terrible name.
Most fiction is a journey to self awareness. We have a protagonist in his/her normal world. Everything is fine…but not really. There is a critical missing piece keeping the protagonist from being self-actualized. This is plainer to see when we realize that most beginnings and endings of novels (and movies/series) are actually bookends.
Normal world is their world with the wound festering and hidden. The denouement? The world is restored but whole.
All of us have blind spots. If we didn’t, therapists would go bankrupt and have to get a “real job.” Truth is, most therapists know exactly what our problem is the first day we sit in their office. Problem is there are all kinds of other emotions clouding our vision.
This is one of the reasons shrinks do a lot of listening, nodding and asking questions. And probably a lot of doodling and playing tic-tac-toe on their notepads to stave off the boredom while they wait for us to catch up to the obvious.
Our story problem in a sense is extreme therapy for the protagonist. Instead of our character spending years on a couch being probed with uncomfortable questions and given homework to write letters to her inner child? She is thrust into a bank heist, an alien invasion, or her family is incinerated by a dragon.
Namely because all writers are sadists.
Anyway, when we create the story problem, we as Author God aren’t giving the protagonist any problem, rather the perfect problem that will reveal the wound crouching in the blind spot.
The Hobbits are handed a ring to toss in a volcano. Luke Skywalker is given a Death Star. Sarah is handed a labyrinth. Different challenges for different blind spots.
The Blind Spot is the Boundary Between Protagonist and HERO
My favorite book on plotting is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and every writer needs a copy of this book (Seriously, one of the best craft books EVER). For years I struggled with structure. It made sense when teachers wrote about three acts, but then when I went to write? It all fell out of my head. How could I distinguish one act from the others? Larry answered this critical question.
And since all roads that don’t lead to Star Wars obviously lead to Lord of the Rings….
Normal World—-We establish how the protagonist lives on any other given day. We give a hint of the hidden character flaw.
The Shire. Birthday party. Setting off Gandalf’s fireworks prematurely. Griping about having a dull life devoid of adventure.
Inciting Incident—This is the moment when the core antagonist a.k.a. Big Boss Troublemaker‘s agenda (Sauron) directly intersects with the life of the protagonist and has the potential to interrupt the flow of his/her life.
WTH is this ring and why does it glow? What is that writing? (Note: Has not yet left Shire).
Turning Point Act One—The protagonist makes a decision that is directly reactive to the antagonist’s agenda.
Leaving The Shire for the first time ever to meet Gandalf at The Prancing Pony.
Act One—Protagonist is Running (COMPLETELY REACTIVE to antagonist’s agenda which he or she might not even yet be aware of—hitting at the dark)
Hobbits endure a series of ass kickings from the enemy namely because they are so naive they believe frying bacon on the side of a mountain at night while running from dead kings is a good plan.
Act Two—Protagonist as a Warrior (Protagonist starts to be PROACTIVE, yet still somewhat REACTIVE)
Frodo makes the decision to be the ring-bearer and Fellowship of the Ring created. Now understands Sauron behind all of this and there is an active plan that includes a party of allies.
Act Three—No longer a PROTAGONIST. Now a HERO. (FULLY PROACTIVE).
The naive innocent Hobbit has been transformed into a warrior who is willing to die to do what is right and destroy the ring and save Middle Earth (and The Shire).
Now, in the beginning of the story, had Gandalf said, “Okay, you want adventure. Cool. Well I am going to need to you toss a ring in a volcano and die there because there is no way back. Bad news is you’ll be dead but the good news is…WE WON’T BE! Isn’t that great?”
No one would want that deal.
So why do Frodo and Samwise accept this charge once on the side of Mount Doom? It is because they finally see past their blind spots, notice the wound and then triumph.
Once everything is stripped away, they see all they miss and took for granted. In their naive excitement, they diminished The Shire and how much, deep down they loved it. In the beginning, they couldn’t wait to cast it off and now? It’s all they want but will never have.
They accept they are going to die but now understand that The Shire is worth dying to save.
They did NOT see that in the beginning. It was firmly rooted in their blind spot and was part of the wound. They believed they were too little to make a BIG DIFFERENCE. The Shire’s worth was clouded by this inferiority complex. They couldn’t see what The Shire meant to them because they didn’t properly understand in the beginning 1) how much they took for granted and 2) that home might just not last forever and could be obliterated.
In their naiveté, they failed to respect the real danger they were in.
Yes, This is True in Character-Driven Stories, Too…
Some of you might be saying, “This is all well and good for those *makes distasteful face* genre writers, but my work is more literary and character-driven. I don’t have a necromancer or a special volcano.”
True, but the blind spot—-hate to tell you—-is even MORE important for you guys. See in genre fiction, the character cog can be pretty much any size. Jack Reacher isn’t doing a whole lot of internal development as much as he is throat-punching bad guys and blowing $#!* up.
I read a lot of emerging writers who want a protagonist to go on and on and on about his inner turmoil and wax rhapsodic about inner demons and, speaking of throat-punching…that is pretty much all readers will want to do to that kind of character. Remember last time we talked about plot and character being cogs? Your character cog is larger, but the plot cog still needs to be there.
No one wants to read 300 pages of navel-gazing. We don’t like people who drone on about their inner struggles in person and we sure as hell don’t want to spend money and 15 hours of undivided attention to listen to self-indulgent tripe.
This is why that character needs a wound located in a blind spot that is eventually revealed when under pressure from a plot problem.
One of the best books I have ever read is A Man Called Ove and it is a great example of what I am talking about. Ove is a 59 year old man who just wants to die. He spends the entire book unsuccessfully trying to kill himself.
Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker? The government represented in the proxy of “Men in White Shirts.”
Ove has always been on the losing end when grappling with the power of the government. When he was a young man, “Men in White Shirts” stopped him from saving his home from burning, then different “Men in White Shirts” stole the land the house was built on. As an older man, more “Men in White Shirts” tried to take his wife after she was crippled in an accident. They also refused to build a wheelchair access ramp for her at the school where she taught (and Ove finally did it himself after he gave up fighting them).
Every time Ove has taken on any “Man in a White Shirt” he has failed.
But, the reason he has failed against the “Men in White Shirts” directly relates to the wound and the reason why Ove wants to die.
He is alone. To defeat the Men in White Shirts? He cannot win on his own and the core story problem (he finds out his neighbor and old friend is being forcibly put into a home by the state) is nothing he can conquer alone. But the problems thrust in his way serve to peel back what is wrong with Ove and make him come to understand that why he has always failed is because he keeps people at a distance and some battles need a team.
All good stories are a peeling back until the character finally sees what he or she has been missing all along. That is the purpose of PLOT even in a character-driven story. There must be an outside catalyst that disrupts the world, forces action, then generates change.
What are your thoughts? Other than POOR KRISTEN AND HER POOR CAR! LOL. It’s all good. The guy was nice and was just bad timing. But back to fiction, can you think of great stories and nail the blind spot covering the wound? Can you do this with your own writing?
I love hearing from you!
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November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.
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