It’s a while since I’ve felt the need to make up a word to talk about writing. I used to do it all the time. I used to think there were words for these concepts but I didn’t know what they were, so I made up my own encodings. I didn’t know the proper words because whenever I tried to read a “how to write” book I found myself repelled with great force, as from the wrong pole of a magnet. Usually now I have either picked up the proper words and use them (though I sometimes forget) or I know that there aren’t proper words, and just use mine, generally remembering to footnote them. Sometimes I made words up, and sometimes I took existing words and loaded them with my own meanings.
But this morning I was thinking about the quality of being the kind of person that stories happen to, which I want to call protagonismos.
In between the time she’s fifteen (Among Others) and the time she’s seventy, Mori has spent her life trying very hard to avoid that. “My life is very boring these days,” she says, with relief. But then there’s a character in Among Others called Wim, who desperately want to be a protagonist, he wants there to be something more, he wants to be in a world with magic, or aliens, or something, he doesn’t want to be boring, he doesn’t want the world to be boring. He really really wants to be in a story, more than he wants anything. But I couldn’t write a book about him because from his own POV he comes over whiny, and also because he doesn’t have protagonismos, even though he so desperately wants it. And I know what happened to him in that space of time too, between seventeen and seventy-two.
And thinking about this I thought about the problems I had with making Lifelode have a plot and the way it kept being drawn to Hanethe, because Taveth was not somebody who could attract a plot. It was like gravity. And I was thinking about Cryoburn too, which has Miles in it, rather than having Miles as a protagonist. And I thought about Mr Earbrass: “Though he is a person to whom things do not happen, perhaps they may when he is on the other side.” Lois has a piece online in which she interviews Miles and he says to her “You stay the hell away from my kids!”. I have had characters decide to run away from me and get work as stableboys in Constantinople. (It didn’t help.)
There are characters who attract stories like lightning rods, and there are characters who can only get a story if it jumps them in an alley, and there are characters who couldn’t get one if if knocked on their door with an engraved invitation to a story brought by a wizard and fourteen dwarves.
Protagonismos, the quality of being the kind of person to whom things happen.