Very early in my childhood I had a number of ideas for a novel. One in particular stuck with me for a long time. The other one came a bit later. At the moment, though, I can’t for the life of me remember which one was there first.
One was about a double agent. The idea from the beginning was for him to spy on group X on behalf of group Y, but he was actually reporting to X unbeknownst to Y. Then the story grew and got a deeper layer where X believed the above was the situation. However, Y had the upper hand because they knew X believed that and the spy was actually reporting to them. In an ever increasing complexity, the spy character got completely wiped out of the story because he became such a victim of circumstance it was hard to figure out who he really was. At one point he was even a robot. The character that remained was the guy who was originally his boss and had a dark office in a building at the site where he was heading the operation excavating a spaceship that crashed into the ground so hard it sunk a couple of kilometers below the surface.
The other story was about an artifact so old it predated what is commonly understood to be the beginning of the universe 13.772 aeons ago.
The first story was growing ever more complicated. The second was becoming vacuous. Then at one point the two stories merged and things started to become mildly interesting. As time went by the story grew. It was supposed to be about some kind of discovery of the power of the artifact. Then I added shapeshifters into the mix. Then I learned about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism and then the main character had to be a Dominique-like heroine. And the novel had to have something great about capitalism in it and something terrible about collectivism. Shapeshifters served nicely for the latter. And I made a really great story from it. I used to tell the story to some of my friends and they listened to me intently for hours.
I wrote a short story about humanity’s first contact with the artifact and submitted it for publishing to some magazine. It got rejected and I was told to work on my tenses. English is not exactly my mother tongue and I do have issues with verb tense usage. I’ve joined some English language forums and recently I bought an on-line course to master the tenses in order to remedy that problem. I still haven’t gone through all the lessons; they’re not really what I expected, they merely reiterate what I was taught at my English classes in a much more boring manner, but the cheat sheet is great, though I don’t normally use it when I write a text like this one.
Back then I imagined the story to be structured so the reader would have no idea what was really going on until the climax. Something like Sixth Sense, except less creepy and way more sci-fi. That made the moment of realization something to prepare the reader for throughout the story and the moment itself was getting very complicated to think about.
Then the story was forgotten for a long time. In the back of my mind, however, it was always being written. One of my friends who I used to tell the story to reminded me of it after I’ve let it go due to some life events like getting married and having children. When I got back to it, it became a trilogy. I decided I would write about the things that I used to say were merely introduction to the story. They were all stories in themselves. That meant I would abandon the idea of keeping the reader in the dark. I realized it wouldn’t be any good when I watched Sixth Sense for the second time. I noticed some things that led up to the climax that I hadn’t noticed before, but the climax itself was kind of boring. I would let the reader know all the facts, but I’d make him lose nerve over seeing characters who do not understand each other and are out to destroy one another simply because they never talk on friendly terms (basically), while there’s a deadly force out there just waiting to wipe them both out.
The story grew with me so long that I decided one day that I would finally write it. I wrote down synopses for the first two parts of the trilogy. Then came the third part where all threads must converge and get resolved. And as I was structuring the story to achieve the ending that I wanted, something happened in my life – in my marriage, in fact – which made me immediately remember my story and I realized that my story is wishy-washy crap. Pardon the language.
Actually, it wasn’t all crap. Only the climax was the crappy part.
Long story short, I found myself in need to turn that climax on its head and show it for what it really is. And I found it almost immediately. What seemed like an idyllic ending very easily turned into an obvious hell for everyone involved in my mind. And I realized that I need one more character and perhaps even to make that trilogy into a “quadrilogy” in order to achieve the proper, non-naive climax.
One of the reasons I’m sharing any of this is because I haven’t figured two things yet: first, who is that guy, and second, how to add a new protagonist to the story without changing it completely. I’m thinking how just slapping on top of the trilogy the fourth book which introduces a new character which ends up overshadowing every single one of the characters developed throughout the rest of the story is cheap and fake and sloppy. On the other hand, adding another protagonist to the story will dramatically change everything I’ve done so far and I don’t feel like redoing everything is the way to go. The third option is to choose one of the existing characters and make them the protagonist. The problem with the third option is that none of the others is cut out for a protagonist. They weren’t meant to be protagonists, so they aren’t.
The one character who might fit the role actually commits suicide at the end of the third book and that is so bloody dramatic (not the suicide, but the way he does it, the reasons for it, and the effects it has) I’m absolutely not cutting it out!
There is the fourth option, though. It might be a long shot, but since the other three are shooting myself in the foot, I believe I’ll take it.
I create a completely new character. Someone seemingly irrelevant in the first novel. Someone offering intriguing solutions which are promptly ignored by the others in book two. Someone spinning off their own story line in book three. And someone finishing off the antagonist in book four. That someone is… who?
I did a couple of searches for literary examples of characters such as he. While I haven’t yet found someone with such a wide arc, I have certainly found examples that may be of help. The cool thing is that I’ve already incorporated some of the things I found helpful into the story. For example, the fake protagonist is definitely in the story. The protagonist seemingly finishes off the biggest threat in book three – thus reaching climax – but then she herself becomes that same threat. The fake protagonist becomes the antagonist; it’s not unheard of.
Another thing I might do is the evolution of an archetype. I make my character a kind of tinkerer/scientist/inventor archetype in the beginning who later evolves into a hero. To be honest, it took me quite a while to come up with that evolution. Somehow that fits the story; the narrative that my mind is somewhat subconsciously preparing for him the more I think about that character. And sure, I’ve considered other options.
Like making my character autistic and extremely focused on just one thing, then having the main story interfere with his focus so he gets all vengeful and aims to end the interruption. It’s not much unlike what happened in The Accountant, except that guy was the protagonist from the beginning. I’ve seen the movie just recently. Another was to make him a fool, but I really could not see how to make him predominantly foolish and likable at the same time in that context. At least, I would not have liked him. In fact, I don’t like most of the movies that have fools for protagonists (and I don’t read such books either), especially so if they are facing some serious adversary.
As I find myself dancing around, trying to figure out his archetype, trying to figure out how to seamlessly involve him into an already existing story, I find myself lacking the answer to a very simple question: Who is he?
And I find myself thinking about the double agent from the beginning of this text. The guy I edited out of the story before it even became interesting. So when both X and Y finally and inevitably wipe each other out as he watches, who is he? And how does he fare against an even greater evil?
It seems like I will search for the answer to these questions in much the same manner as I searched the answer to the same questions about myself.