Making Misaki (or How Not to Create a Protagonist) (Guest Post Sample)

A post in which I discuss the creative process behind the character of Misaki from The Sword of Kaigen. (Header artwork by Tiffany Jones)

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With 2019 coming to a close, I realized that I’ve actually written far more Theonite-related content for other people’s blogs than my own. This isn’t something I regret; I don’t believe I’ve ever mistaken myself for a blogger or led anyone else to do so.

However, I do want all of these posts to be easy to find, here on this site where people are most likely to be searching for them. So, what I’m going to do over the remainder of 2019 is post introductory samples of all my guest posts, one at a time. These samples should be just long enough to give you an idea of whether you’re interested in clicking through to the full post on the host’s blog.

The content is easy to find, the hosts still get the traffic, everybody wins!

The following is the fourth of seven guest posts I wrote for The Sword of Kaigen Blog Tour, hosted by Karina at Afire Pages from 11/11 – 11/29/19. In this one, hosted by Jamishelves I discuss the unusual protagonist of The Sword of Kaigen, her origins, and my thoughts on protagonist construction in general.

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Making Misaki (or How Not to Create a Protagonist)

The earliest reviewers of The Sword of Kaigen commented on how refreshing it was to see a fantasy protagonist who was a housewife and mother. I’ve always felt uncomfortable taking credit for this creative decision because it wasn’t so much a decision as a costly accident. Because Misaki, as a character concept, is a terrible idea.

Misaki (The Sword of Kaigen) by Merwild
Misaki by Coralie Jubenot (@merwild)

Any author will tell you that there is a method to character design. Protagonists are typically young, active, mobile, and strongly motivated for good reason. A mobile protagonist can get around enough to maximize their involvement in the plot. We see so many teenage protagonists because adolescence is a point in every person’s life during which they can be expected to grow fast enough to achieve a satisfying character arc in one book. A protagonist with a clear goal is easy to root for. It’s just good design.

Misaki is the antithesis of this functional design: a 34-year-old mother of four, physically confined to her narrow role as a housewife, emotionally confined by her own depression, narratively confined between two archetypes, the most exciting part of her life decidedly behind her. She is, from a utilitarian perspective, the worst-designed protagonist for an action story, and not one I would have constructed on purpose.

In order to understand how I arrived at this bad design, you must first understand that Misaki was originally built to fill a completely different archetype. She has her origin in my YA series, Theonite, which takes place thirteen years after The Sword of Kaigen. I started writing Theonite when I was twelve—too young to read, let alone conceive, a story like The Sword of Kaigen—and the Matsuda Misaki invented for that story occupied the role of the unconditionally supportive but a little bit badass parent and mentor figure—incidentally, the same role inhabited by every likable character over the age twenty. You could say that I lacked range.

To give my preteen self a little bit of credit, the Misaki of Theonite is competently designed in this regard. The classically functional mentor is experienced enough to know plot-relevant information, articulate enough to dispense that information when necessary, and removed enough from the action that they can’t destroy the tension by solving the protagonist’s problems for them. There are two ways to keep an overpowered mentor away from the main plot. The easy way out is to kill them, relegating their inspirational speeches and wisdom dumps to flashbacks.

Misaki survived my many drafts of mentor-slaughter because she is removed in the second way: confinement. She spends the duration of the Theonite series in the kitchen—specifically, a kitchen on the other side of the world from most of the action, accessible by phone, but never close enough to swoop in and save anyone from danger…

Keep Reading on Jamishelves >>

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Theonite and The Sword of Kaigen covers
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