The Cowboy vs the Special Ops Director

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I have just completed a twelve or fourteen week workshop on novel writing and now have about twelve to fifteen thousand words of my mystery written. Perhaps, it’s fairer to say I have about twelve to fifteen thousand words of my mystery in first draft form. It’s a mess.

My problem is my main character, Joseph P. Morgan, forensic accountant and part-time, third generation rancher. The conventional wisdom is crafting a protagonist is that he or she must be strong, intelligent, and determined in fighting crime and capturing the criminal, usually a dangerous murderer. On the other hand, the conventional wisdom says the author should try to show the personal foibles and weakness of this character. The hero or heroine should have obstacles, both external and internal, to overcome in their pursuit of justice.

This is all well and good, and perfectly understandable, but in the hands of some writers, it leads to a main character that is hopelessly incompetent. The reader wonders how in the world the guy ever managed to get up in the morning, much less overcome an intelligent, ruthless and generally nasty adversary. One reason I chose to make my hero a cowboy and rancher is to draw on the legend of the West, the self-reliance, strength, that every western hero has to display. I hoped that this would provide a protagonist who is, at the very least strong, competent, and believable as a tracker down of criminals. The problem I’m struggling with is that Joe Morgan is coming across as a stereotype of the old west cowboy, and not a real person.

The other part of my problem is that I’ve created another character to serve as a friend and advisor to my protagonist. This guy has a PhD in history from the University of Michigan, has recently retired from a career in the “U.S. Department of State”, and a serious background in U.S. Army Special Operations activities. In his retirement, he has started work on the definitive biography of John Quincy Adams. And, oh, by the way, he only has one hand, his right, and wears a hook on the stump of his left wrist. The thing is that everyone who has read what I have so far thinks that my historian character is stronger and might be a better lead than Joe Morgan.

This is probably a fair assessment, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I think I’m kind of burned out on the book and need to put it aside for a while, especially after fourteen weeks of intense concentration on it. I have become too wrapped up in the story and need to back away for a while. Since Advent is coming up, I’m going to try focusing on more general writing and reading. One thing I hope to do is spend Advent returning, or rekindling my Franciscan roots. I think I’ll have more on that in a later post.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on November 11, 2005 8:17 AM.

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