C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Writers: Why you should read John Dies at the End

Sometimes I see manuscripts where there’s a lot going on. That’s good. The problem is that the protagonist is always around the action, but isn’t initiating any actions. Heroes are self-starters.

It’s okay to have your hero or heroine gobsmacked when zombie terrorists attack the city. However, if things are still happening to the protagonist rather than him or her being proactive, your protagonist will soon annoy the reader.

It happens more often than you’d think. I suspect it’s a plotting problem. If the hero runs around in circles while everyone around him knows more than he does, it’s easier to get him into trouble.

There’s a place for weak-willed characters. They’re called secondary characters. Your protagonist can do the wrong thing or draw stupid conclusions, but notice the words “do” and “draw.” Protagonists are verb-oriented.  Yes, the hero can be fooled. The hero can have room to grow as a person. But he can’t be an idiot who grows into a genius unless his name is Charlie and his pet mouse is named Algernon.

For instance, I’m reading a great book now called John Dies at The End by David Wong. Aside from managing to be a clever mixture of Stephen King and Douglas Adams, I noticed Wong’s protagonist makes decisions that are perfectly reasonable in context. And he acts immediately.

So many books allow villains to do what they made of fun of in The Incredibles: Monologuing. (Example: “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond! But first, let me give you a tour of the complex and explain my evil plan to corner the world’s teddy bear market.”)

When Wong’s hero confronts Big E Evil, he doesn’t let the Big Bad lay out plans for world domination. He  pulls out his pistol and fires immediately, no warning shots. The results may not be what you expect, of course, but his hero isn’t dumb. The effect of this narrative efficiency is so powerful you’ll find yourself asking, “Wait, what was the evil plan? Oh, nevermind. I guess I’ll find out later.”

Don’t worry. You will. But I won’t spoil anything for you. Just go buy John Dies at the End by David Wong. You’ll be glad you did. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

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