Monday, December 24, 2012

I, Protagonist

Things have been difficult for me recently.  
It started at the end of November.  It started at work.  Up until then, things had been going along swimmingly.  Since I took over as Production Manager the company had seen eight straight months of meeting the monthly output goal, the first time that had happened.  There had been problems, personnel issues and the like, but overall I was feeling very positive about how things had gone and where they would be going forward.  
Something happened after I returned from my Thanksgiving Vacation to change that perception.  This is work, and real life, so, perforce, I will be vague on the specifics.  Suffice it to say, I was given new parameters to achieve and a certain amount of time in which to do so.  I have been working to make the unit's performance meet those new parameters.  Things have not been going well.  

In the last few days, a couple of things have happened to cause me to reevaluate what I've been doing.  The first one was an epiphany about what clients could perceive of the work being done in my department.  This epiphany lead me realize that the parameters given to me to achieve were not the ones I need to be achieving.  They were not meaningless.  They just didn't have the direct impact on creating the perception in our clients that we want to create.  This epiphany told me EXACTLY what I needed to be working on.  The only problem was that I was making this realization right before a long holiday weekend, and would only have four work days after we returned, and a vacation depleted staff, in which to implement it.  
The other thing that happened was my finishing the novel, Redshirts by John Scalzi.  The novel, as one might guess from the title, is about characters in a universe that resembles one from a famous television and movie science fiction franchise realizing that crew-members that went on away missions with the captain, first officer, chief medical officer or chief engineer died at extremely high rates.  It is about what they find out when they try to discover the reason for the high death rate amongst these crewmen.  
Please note: A bit of a spoiler follows in the next paragraph.  
The crewmen on board the Intrepid, the ship in Redshirts, come to realize that they are characters in a story.  They are real people.  But they owe their existence to, and are influenced by, a television drama being created in the past.  By the conclusion of Redshirts, using this premise, John Scalzi makes some very piquant observations on life, how we live it and give it meaning, and about writing as well.  I highly recommend it, especially to any science fiction fan.  
For me, personally, though, it got me to wonder about my own life's story.  Particularly the most recent part of it.  I found myself asking myself questions like, "What sort of protagonist am I?" and "What type of story am I living in?"  As I thought along this lines, I realized I HAD the framework for a story.  I had an inciting incident, the meeting at the end of November wherein the parameters by which my unit's performance was changed.  I had a goal, changing those parameters within the time frame given to me.  There were obstacles, more than I care to list at the moment.  I could even see a consequence, losing my position, for failing to meet that goal.  
Once I knew I had the different parts of a story, it became clear what I needed to do.  I had to write it.  So, that's what I'm doing here.  Going over the story parts to build the narrative I want to create.  I even had a title for it already.  "The Long December."  Catchy, huh?  
The first place to start is with my main character.  My hero.  My protagonist.  Me.  Or, someone based on someone remarkably like me.  This is fiction, right?  I am trying to gain some distance on the situation to see the truth about it.  To do that, I have to streamline the character, keeping only what is essential.  Maybe even making some stuff up to add them in, lies I wish were true.  From this point on, take everything I put down with as many grains of salt you think are necessary.  
So who is this character I'm writing about?  We'll call him...  Ray.  After my late uncle on my Mom's side.  I'm choosing Ray as the character's name because I've always liked the name (It's one of two middle names I have) and because my uncle Ray had some interesting qualities that I want my protagonist, Ray, to have.  One was that Ray was a very intelligent person.  He could speak several languages fluently, including Latin.  More importantly, Ray had the ability to convince people of things.  In the Korean War, Ray won the Bronze Star by convincing a Chinese patrol that he was one of them and leading them back to the American lines for capture.  Ray was in a mental hospital for one part of his life.  Quite often, despite the hospital's best efforts, Ray would get out of his room and find a spare doctor's white coat, and meet with people coming to see the doctor for the first time.  People would be convinced that he was the doctor, and would find it hard to believe when they were told the truth.  After he was released, my uncle Ray continue to have that way about him, where you sure the things he told you were the truth.    
As for Protagonist Ray, he thinks he has problems communicating sometimes.  He believes he makes himself clear on points, only to have people act surprised at outcomes he told them to expect.  People think he is very organized, when the truth of the matter is that he is thorough, constantly checking and rechecking things to make sure they are right.  
Protagonist Ray doesn't think he's right for the job he has.  He doesn't like managing people.  He doesn't like telling others what to do, no more than he likes being told what to do.  He can handle people individually just fine.  But when they are in groups, weird things happen.  It confuses and irritates him when people don't simply do what they are being paid to do.  It's very simple, he thinks.  It's a job.  You do "X" and the company pays you "Y."  If you want more than "Y" but the company won't pay you that, then go find a job where they will.  Don't cut back on the amount of work you do to what you think "Y" is worth.  That's not what you agreed to do.  Don't be surprised that more is expected of you if the company promotes you or gives you a raise.  That is what they do.  
Protagonist Ray is a "Be-er."  This is a concept borrowed from Dramatica Pro, a story generation program that I use sometimes.  In terms of how a character reacts to their environment, Dramatica Pro classifies characters into two categories; "Be-ers" are characters that adapt to their environment.  Think of Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca.  If they ran a business, they would build it by paying attention to their client's needs.  "Do-ers" react to their environment in more external, physical fashion.  Think of any main character in an action movie, such as Bruce Willis in Die Hard.  If a "Do-er" ran a business, they would try to build it by focusing on those "sweat of the brow" things associated with running a business, improving the product, picking the ideal location, getting out sales and advertising, etc.  Protagonist Ray looks at the employees he has and the work flow and says to himself, "How can I make these things fit to get the output I want?"
Protagonist Ray has switches in his head.  Not buttons, as in, "she pushes my buttons." 
"Buttons," to Protagonist Ray's way of thinking, implies something that wasn't on before has suddenly come to life.  Or that something which was going before has been shut off.  
Protagonist Ray things of himself as having switches in his head, because it implies a channeling in his mind.  The emotions are there, whirring along, buzzing along the neurons in his brain the way electrical current is buzzing through the wires embedded in the walls of one's home.  The switch channels that energy from one socket to another, allowing it to bring your computer to life or make your vacuum roar into action.  The energy is always there, though.  
Most of the switches are channeling Protagonist Ray's emotional energy into the desire to "show them."  Show them that he knows what he's doing.  Show them that he can fix this.  Anything that gets in the way, or anyone that creates obstacles in the way of getting this done, is to be pushed aside.  
What is it that will make people feel an affinity toward Ray?  Good question.  I would like to think it will be Protagonist Ray's honest desire to solve problems for others.  Protagonist Ray wants to achieve this goal not just because it feels like a challenge thrown into his face.  He wants to achieve this goal because he knows that achieving it is the right thing to do for the clients and the people in other departments depending on him.  
That's it for now.  Except for one more thing.  Since this is fiction like I said, how it ends up for Protagonist Ray is up to me.  So, I'm picking...
And he lived Happily Ever After.


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