On this third day of November in this Year of Our Lord 2022, I refuse to talk about the upcoming elections. I refuse to talk about the attempts to pre-anesthetize us about the massive, nationwide act of vote fraud we must anticipate. And I flatly refuse to talk about the whining for “pandemic amnesty.” Plenty of others can and will shoot at the fish in those barrels…though why anyone should find that pastime attractive, I can’t understand, especially given the current price of ammo. Anyway, today I just can’t.
You see, I’m facing a crisis. It’s the sort of crisis only a novelist will ever face, and be grateful for that, Gentle Reader. Because it’s a conscience-trying, fear-stoking, what-will-posterity-think-of-me-if-I-do-this mess. The sort of thing that can make a writer glad that he languishes in obscurity.
I’m contemplating killing a Main Character. A protagonist.
I’ve already done it once. It brought a veritable monsoon of denunciations upon my unexpecting head. (One particularly fierce set came from a sweet young woman in India who’d previously offered to marry me. Sight unseen, too. No, she didn’t retract the offer. Think what you like.) You’d think I’d have learned from that not to do it again. Perhaps the quarter century since that first auctorial indulgence has weakened my inhibitions. Hopefully that won’t prove fatal…to me.
Among my problems, I have too many Main Characters roaming the Onteora landscape. And in the sweet rushing fullness of time, every one of them has demanded to appear in subsequent stories, at least as important members of the Supporting Cast. My Supporting Cast characters are unanimous in their protests. They want to be Main Characters, and any attention shunted off to existing Main Characters deprives them of their due, or so they say.
I get no peace.
This is the power of Main Character Immunity (MCI). Protagonists are so routinely exempted from death that they’ve come to expect it. So have fiction readers worldwide. To kill an attractive protagonist, no matter how imperative the plot makes it, is to shatter readers’ expectations with a violence that few fictional events can equal. I could probably insert a passage from the Marquis de Sade into the middle of an Onteora County Romance with fewer repercussions.
Consider this: The whole of the trailblazing TV series 24 was founded on MCI. Had that convention been tossed aside, what would have become of the series? Great God in heaven, it was bad enough when Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer found new love with Annie Wersching’s Renee Walker, only to have her snatched away by a sniper’s bullet. Imagine if Bauer himself had caught that bit of lead!
But in the novel I’m currently constructing, the plot demands a blood sacrifice. It refuses to march forward without one, and if you think negotiating with a surly, petulant protagonist is tough, try slugging it out with a plot that’s gone on strike! Worst of all, the character that goes down has to be one of the Good Guys. So I’m torn.
Yeah, I know: It should be my worst problem. But it’s a humdinger. I got such a backblast over killing a Supporting Cast character in a recent book – a book (and a series) that’s proved to have wider and deeper influence than I originally expected, and I have no idea whether to be happy about that – that I was temporarily seized by the urge to change my name, move, and leave no forwarding address. (It was the difficulty of finding a new name that’s even easier to misspell than Porretto that stopped me.)
So this frosty autumn morning finds me conflicted. The novel is stuck. Without an unexpected event of genuinely stunning impact, it will proceed no further. And nothing integral to the tale that’s of less import than the death of a protagonist will do the job. But the specter of MCI looms large over me; I don’t know if I have the heft to defy it. I’m not Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, or John Steinbeck. Come to think of it, did any of them ever kill a protagonist in the middle of a book? I can’t remember!
It surely does look like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.