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Hero or Heroine - can novelists reflect real life by having dual protagonists?

February 26, 2012

In the realm of the novel, convention states there is a protagonist – he is male in books for men, she is female in books for women. He or she is the single most important character in the story. She or he – alone – must solve the riddle, obtain the prize, complete the journey and yet...

In the realm of Fantasy there are: fairies, trolls, giants and dwarfs, hybrid beasts, wizards and magical spells.
In the realm of Religion there are: gods and demons, angels and messiahs, mystics, martyrs, sinners and saints.
In the realm of Science there are: questions - explored by theory, proved or disproved by facts as discovered by experiment.
In the physical Universe there is: a blue-green planet populated by myriad life-forms, both plant and animal, almost all of which evolved into two sexes – female or male.
 

  • Hollywood and the Romance-fiction industry have convinced a huge audience that real life is boring. Publishers declare that only conflict and drama sells. A sex scene can't possibly be sexy if both parties can laugh in the middle of it.


Side by side, a hero and heroine, facing outwards to solve the problems of life, backing each other in the ways unique to each sex - this is how a man and woman who are true mates behave in real life. Now, I'm not suggesting some fairy-tale partnership in which never an angry word is exchanged. Real people don't have the nature of angels.  However, I don't believe that readers are incapable of enjoying a story involving more than the simplistic formula of hero or heroine winning, single-handed, against the odds.
 

  • I'm reminded of the situation back in the day when I began trying to find acceptance from a gallery. Everyone I approached told me this:

'People don't buy paintings of people, unless it's of someone famous, or of themselves.'
In total frustration, at my last interview I asked:
 'Are the public given the choice? I don't see any paintings of people on show.'
That gallery owner took a chance on me, exhibited a few of my 'people paintings' and sold them so quickly that he mounted a solo show for me. It attracted both sales and critical praise and jump-started my career as a painter.

  • The result proved my faith in the principle that people will buy what they prefer - if what they prefer is offered. Audiences for any art can be well-guided by informed reviewers but they are not well-served by 'experts' who presume to decide what is made available.


When it comes to fiction, I think the same principle applies and I'm on my way to testing it with a manuscript in which both leading characters have a balanced influence on how the story progresses. Just as in real life, this man and this woman view the obstacles of their journey from different perspectives. According to the dictates of their sex, each handles problems in a different way. They are as different from each other - and as much the same in their humanity - as any man and woman are in reality. They are of equal value in their influence on the outcome of their story.

  • My view runs counter to the prevailing formula for successful novel-writing. It may turn out to be impossible to put into practice, well enough to convince a reader. So, if you are a writer or regular reader of historical-fiction - and have a moment to spare from your day - I'd really value any comment you care to leave about this idea and I thank you in advance. ©DorothyGauvin

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I completely agree with this post. I would love to read that book. I have been struggling with this myself. Mostly how to write a dual-protagonist hero journey. I hate it that so many books and movies make the girl out to just be a useless female.



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