Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Character Swap

If you're like me, you probably have 27 or so unfinished stories on your hard drive or in notebooks somewhere. Maybe you only wrote the outline before losing interest, or maybe you made it through 18 chapters before getting stuck writing the climax. Or maybe you have multiple stories finished and published (congratulations!) and are working on something new.

Take the protagonist of your current story and put her in a scene from another work of yours. How would she handle the conflict differently than the actual protagonist of that story? Where would she end up taking the plot next?

This exercise is helpful for rooting out the differences and similarities between your stories' protagonists. I did this the other night when reflecting on Wynette, the main character of Rising From the Sand, and how she's surprisingly different from Maywitch's protagonist.

Wynette may be sarcastic and cranky, but she has a kind heart, and is relatively quick to make friends. Early on in Rising From the Sand, she and her colleague Laris are asked to provide transportation for a young woman, Plutonia, stuck in a small town in the desert. Though it's technically a violation of their work rules, Wynette agrees, and convinces Laris to agree as well. When things get unsafe in their destination of Tioria, Wynette doesn't hesitate to let Plutonia stay with her.

Wynette handles the situation with kindness and trust - she doesn't assume that Plutonia will be more trouble than she's worth. And it's not that Wynette wants anything in return, or that she has some weird altruist streak. She just doesn't want anything resting on her conscience if something bad happens, and she doesn't think the minor inconvenience of helping Plutonia is that big of a deal.

Kay, the protagonist of Maywitch, wouldn't turn Plutonia away... but she wouldn't exactly welcome her with open arms, either. She could definitely be convinced to take Plutonia along in violation of her work rules, but it wouldn't be easy. She would be more stoic, less friendly, and less accommodating of Plutonia, because Kay just doesn't trust people that easily. Her desire to do good in the world is outweighed by her mistrust of people and fear of being taken advantage of.

Wynette's motherly side is completely missing from Kay. Wynette's sense of responsibility for others, and resulting slightly high-strung nature, is mostly missing from Kay. And Kay's sense of mistrust simply doesn't exist in Wynette - except, of course, when it comes to cops. (Fun fact: Wynette's relationship with Tiorian cops gets even more messy in the sequel to Rising From the Sand. Muahaha!)

There are certainly other differences between the two: Kay is more risk-averse than Wynette. Kay keeps her disdain for authority to herself, while Wynette mouths off and pushes limits whenever it suits her. These differences in traits, though, stem more from Kay's relative apathy and mistrust than any real differences in outlook or worldview.

Phew! That was a lot to try to synthesize into a spoiler-free analysis. What about your characters? Do your protagonists end up being fairly similar? Do different settings bring out different traits in them?

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