I’ve been pondering the problem of Justin Wyatt as ideas for book 3 of Restoration Adventures simmer quietly on my brain’s back burner. (Don’t get too excited. It’s at least a couple of years away. Sorry-not-sorry.)
The man is the worst protagonist ever. I’m the loving author who created him and wouldn’t change a single one of his traits, but it’s true. My favorite POV character refuses to be the main character in his own stories, and that is one big rocky block to write around.
He was fun to create. What’s not to love about a genius billionaire philanthropist who isn’t a total asshole? I liked the idea of taking everything away from someone who had it all–brains, money, fame, friends–and seeing what would happen. I made him a good guy, a homebody with simple tastes and a kind heart, two parts Doc Brown and one part Samwise Gamgee. And then I broke him.
The result is a good “quest for justice” adventure (or so I choose to delude myself ) but it stopped being Justin’s story early on. He couldn’t carry the book alone. I broke him a little too much.
Most plot lines follow the protagonist’s development: the hero’s journey and all that. Their actions drive the story forward to its climax. Justin is physically and emotionally incapable of development. His brain was irreparably damaged. (Spoiler alert? Nah, it’s hinted in the cover blurb) He has a basket full of mental issues, indecisiveness among them, and he is unable to take care of himself. That makes him an impossible action hero.
Coming to terms with his losses could’ve been a hero’s journey, but that wasn’t the main story Justin wanted to tell. He wanted bloody retribution in Controlled Descent, so I gave it to him along with a lot of companions who carry most of the traditional plotting weight.
He’s at the center of the story, but it builds around him. His indecision has consequences as important as the deliberate choices others make. The inaction-is-an-action element is maddening to get onto the page, but I do love the way Justin’s simplicity complicates life for everyone else. He’s an awful protagonist, but a powerful plot generator.
My father compares Controlled Descent to a Russian novel. I haven’t had the courage to ask if that’s a compliment or a condemnation, but I can’t argue the description’s accuracy. It’s an ensemble piece with five main characters, four of whom have POV roles, plus half a dozen more people with major speaking parts, multiple antagonists and assorted extras. The time frame is also longer than most current commercial fiction guides recommend. And do NOT get me started on it having a four-act plot when all the good stories are “supposed to” fit into three acts.
But I digress. Back to Justin and refusal to cooperate with dramatic traditions.
I think of him as a hero like Angel or Bruce Banner in their respective television series: those shows proved that their stars don’t have to always be the point. I’m sure there are other examples, from books even, but those are the first two that come to mind.
Justin is a lousy hero, but he makes other people into great ones. He’s a simple man but a good one, and that brings out the best in everyone around him.
And that’s why I will be giving him more stories even if he refuses to take the spotlight in any of them for long.
What’s that? I should give you links? I should promote my books?
Here are links to Justin’s stories on Amazon & elsewhere.
Artist credit: Daniel Govar