Have you ever noticed how many novels feature writers as their protagonist? Maybe it’s because people believe they’re supposed to write about what they know. Whatever the reason, I decided to make a short list and see what thoughts spew forth!
- Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
- Misery (Stephen King)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote)
- The Shining (Mr. King again)
- The World According to Garp (John Irving)
- I Pass Like Night (Jonathan Ames)
- Sex and the City (Candice Bushnell)
- Curtain (and every other Miss Marple/Hercule Poirot novel…Agatha Christie)
- On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
- Wonder Boys (Michael Chabon)
Even leaving out Hemingway and Vonnegut, this actually is a good list because it shows the breadth of the practice. It spans decades and genres – from Little Women to Sex and the City, and from horror to humor. I recently read a forum discussion where writers bashed the custom, calling it a sign of laziness, but you can’t dismiss the impressive works on even just this short list. I also can’t dismiss the fact that my protagonist in Oldsters, Eddie Barnes, is a former journalist and journalism professor who is working on his first novel!
The question is, does the fact that the main character is a writer help, hinder or have no affect at all on the story?
I believe that the fact that the character is a writer should not be of any special note to the reader, but I think the reason it’s done so often is because we know he or she will tell a good story. In Oldsters, Eddie is trying to write a detective novel reminiscent of the old film noir Thin Man movies. There’s no element of mystery or crime in my book; my choice here has more to do with the likeness between Eddie and his late wife’s relationship to the Nick and Nora relationship in the Thin Man tales. At the end of the book, we’ll see Eddie working on his second novel which will be the story he’s just lived through with his friends – so I’ve allowed Eddie to go on this adventure in a planned attempt to allow him to finish his first book, and as an added plus the adventure becomes his material for his future book.
Who knows why we writers make any choice in our work…I don’t like to concentrate on any one aspect of any sort of art for too long, I’d rather move through it more organically. Do any of your favorite novels have writers as protagonists? I’d love to hear what you think, but for now…