Concerning Plot and Characters

by Josh
(United States)

Question: I'm creating a story that revolves around the political relations of two fictional countries. In the story, a powerful figure (the antagonist) in one nation's government uses his influence to bring the two nations to war out of a personal hatred for both countries. Thus, the majority of the driving actions in the plot occur at a level where the ordinary citizen would normally not be able to influence the course of events.

However, I want my protagonist to be an ordinary citizen who is mostly powerless against the general tide of global politics (which is being influenced directly by the antagonist). Ideally, he would be influenced by events in the story until he makes the story-defining climactic decision: he attempts to assassinate the antagonist, but fails, and the attempt is spun by the antagonist as the reason to finally begin the war.

Is it acceptable for the protagonist to have such little control over the story's main events? Or should I attempt to create an entirely separate plot for the ordinary citizen that is somewhat intertwined with the original sequence of events (at risk of taking focus away from the dealings of the antagonist and his plans)?

Many thanks in advance.

Answer: It sounds like you want this story to be a tragedy (unless, of course, you're planning a reversal in the final act).

However, the challenge I see is how your main character will be in a position to play a key role in the plot. Usually, in a thriller, the MC is someone with expertise he can bring to bear. For instance, you could choose a talented but overlooked civil servant -- someone who is close to the centre of power, sees what is going on, and can put together the pieces of what is happening.

It would also help to give the MC a personal reason for intervening in the plot. You want to answer questions like, "Why him? Why is he the right person, or perhaps the only person, who to solve this problem?"

It is rather important that the MC play a key role in the plot. The story's outcome will then show whether the MC's choices were right, given the circumstances. That's how the story becomes meaningful. If the MC's choices don't matter, because he has no influence, then the MC's efforts and the story itself tend to feel meaningless.

Best of luck.

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