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Thursday, 30 January 2014
A Protagonist Grows Up...Kind Of
Topic: Writing


Last week began the journey of the creation of the hero of Deadly Lessons, Last Dance, and the in-progress W3.doc. As I talked about, Winston Patrick was originally conceived as a private detective named Mickey Jones.

The evolution of Winston from detective to teacher was in some part due to the nature of the story that had developed as I thought of Deadly Lessons' plot. One way or another, the story was set in a school and, working in a school at the time as a teacher, creating a character whose job I was pretty familiar with made a whole lot of practical sense.

But apart from Winston's apparent similarities to me, he owes a lot of his characteristics to my original conception for my private eye protagonist. Both Mickey and Winston have made significant career changes as the reader first encounters them, Mickey from accountant to private eye; Winston from lawyer to teacher. Originally, I fancied this newness to the profession aspect of the character because I enjoy the reluctant hero perspective it gave me to work with: if Winston is new at his job it's totally acceptable for him to make mistakes, even significant ones. Subconsciously, perhaps, I may have been giving myself permission as a first time novelist to make significant mistakes as well.

Dealing with change is thematically something I find fun to explore as well. In both characters' lives, the men were single; Winston was newly divorced, Mickey perennially single. I like the idea of my protagonist bumbling through changes in relationships as much as he is in his crime fighting.

I like to view both men as, essentially, highly moral characters as well. Though they may not have showed the most competence as they tried to solve crimes - and I like to think that was part of their charm - they had strong values to which they adhered. Winston Patrick is torn in Deadly Lessons by his obligation to his new friend, who is accused of having an affair with a student and his intense belief that an inappropriate teacher-student relationship is entirely reprehensible. He is also torn between his devotion to the law, which he views as a sacred trust between the citizenry and the government, and his belief in the value of education. Similarly, Mickey, as I conceived him, would have taken great pains to ensure that no matter how difficult it was, he would always conduct his investigations within the confines of the law and individual rights.

And, of course, they're both Presbyterian.

I'm not entirely sure why I put the protagonist who would eventually become Winston Patrick in church, just as I had Mickey Jones. Heck, I even planned for Mickey to spend Thursday nights in a men's choir practice. Considering I'm not a regular churchgoer myself, it might seem an unusual trait for a crime genre protagonist. But I wanted my crime buster to really be the antithesis of the tough guy that inhabits much of the genre. So we don't see Winston preaching in the streets, I think his membership in the neighbourhood church adds a layer to Winston that make him hopefully more interesting.

Plus, I think Presbyterian is kind of a funny word: just stuffy sounding enough without sounding like zealotry.

Of course, one of the most prominent characteristics of Winston Patrick is his dual roles as teacher and lawyer. Not only did this permit me to write about things I knew about - teaching - and loved - the law, it was also inspired by a number of teachers I encountered who had, in fact, come from the legal profession. Admittedly, I frequently had envisioned going to law school, even after I had begun my career as a teacher, but I found it surprising how many I found who had gone the other way. It made me wonder if there weren't underlying personality traits in common that lend themselves to both careers.

As W3.doc progresses, Winston is no longer a rookie teacher so he can't fall back on his newbie status for how well he is or isn't doing in the job. It was those feelings of doubt that initially pushed him out of the legal profession and into teaching. By W4.doc, Winston may well have to decide which of the two professions he was better suited for - or at least which one he is least unsuited for.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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