This week’s video discusses the pros of a clueless character who doesn’t know anymore about what’s going on than your reader does.
Often, authors enjoy writing about characters who are larger than life. We write about the kind of people we wish we could be: strong, beautiful, smart—particularly smart. We like our characters to be in the know and always one step ahead of the bad guy. But, in some stories, the most useful kind of protagonist is the clueless kind. A character who has to learn the ropes of the story right along with the reader is a character who is both easier for the reader to identify with and one who will make the necessary job of explaining the ins and outs of the story that much simpler for the author.
Roger Zelazny’s fantasy Nine Princes in Amber gives a good example of how this is accomplished—and why it should be. His story starts with the most clueless of all characters—one who has amnesia. The character spends the first third of the book trying to discover who he is and how the book’s fantasy setting, the beautiful Kingdom of Amber, works. Because the character starts out at ground zero, just like the reader, the author is able to coach the reader through the need-to-know of the story without being obvious about it.
Not every story will support a clueless main character, but whenever you find yourself faced with a complicated plot or setting, consider introducing, at the very least, a clueless minor character who can ask the questions your reader will be asking and thus spare you the added effort of negotiating your way around an out-and-out info dump. And, as if all that isn’t good news enough, don’t forget that clueless characters are often some of the most enjoyable and endearing.