Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What the Protagonist Wants by Joyce T. Strand, Author

Joyce T. Strand, Author
As an author of mysteries, I strive to drive the plot from multiple perspectives--the puzzle itself, the protagonist, the villain, and the background. However, in my latest mystery, THE REPORTER'S STORY, the protagonist, Emma Matheson, truly overrides the story, although San Franciso in 1912 provides some intriguing villains. 

In the following article, I explore the theory that the plot is all about what the protagonist wants.

What the Protagonist Wants
Joyce T. Strand, Author

“The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always, 'What does the protagonist want?' That's what drama is. It comes down to that. It's not about theme, it's not about ideas, it's not about setting, but what the protagonist wants.” -David Mamet

When writing a mystery, what comes first: the puzzle, the protagonist, or the setting?  Is it, as Mamet suggests, all about what the protagonist wants?

In all seven mysteries I’ve published I’ve always started with the protagonist. In the first three mysteries, Jillian Hillcrest’s position as a public relations executive drove the selection of the crimes for her to solve. Brynn Bancroft’s somewhat promiscuous personality determined much of the plot for her two contemporary mysteries. The judge’s case history and his values determined the type of mystery and characters involved with him in 1939 Ventura, Calif.

But out of all seven books, the personality and goals of Emma Matheson in The Reporter’s Story truly drove the plot and the mystery. 

Before plotting the story, I developed Emma. I searched for an early 20th century female reporter who had written and published front-page stories for major west coast newspapers. I was fortunate to uncover Marjorie C. Driscoll, who started as a reporter in San Francisco for William Randolph Hearst and eventually moved to the Los Angeles Times as a respected front-page contributor. To create Emma, I used an article written by Driscoll, a graduate of Stanford University in 1913, which she published in The Stanford Illustrated Review in 1920, titled "In the Newspaper Field." I drew from it my protagonist's values and her reporter's approach.

For the sake of intrigue and mystery, I set the story in 1912 San Francisco. The infamous tongs and the city’s reputation for the unruly days of the Barbary Coast that accompanied the Gold Rush made for an adventurous backdrop.

More important, it was a time when female reporters were not necessarily revered or tolerated, although Hearst and Pulitzer were starting to use them more and more. But to be successful, a female had to first overcome the bias against her gender and then work to write a story.

We learn early on that Emma has accepted this challenge and has no intention of allowing her gender to slow her down.

A less determined reporter would not have insisted on covering house burglaries and might have been satisfied to cover the stories assigned to her as part of the woman’s section. A less experienced reporter would not have been as successful. She makes choices and never backs off. This determination leads her to some difficult situations and doubtful choices, but it does move her toward her goal—and the plot to its conclusion.

By adapting the approach and skills of the real-life Driscoll, my protagonist works her way through a series of events involving shady characters, the infamous San Francisco tongs, and an environment in transition from intolerance of female reporters to selected use of them at a time when women’s suffrage was reaching its apogee. 

And, as Mamet says, the story is all about what the protagonist wants. In The Reporter’s Story it’s all about what Emma Matheson wants—to become a world-class reporter no matter what it takes.

About Joyce T. Strand

Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it contemporary and historical mysteries set in California. All of her published seven novels are inspired by actual events and/or real people, although they are definitely fictionalized.

Her first three contemporary mysteries feature protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, a public relations executive who encounters murder and mayhem at her Silicon Valley company. Jillian’s boss, Brynn Bancroft, solves the next two mysteries when she leaves her position as Chief Financial Officer to run a winery in Sonoma, north of San Francisco.

In Strand’s first historical mystery, a Superior Court Judge strives to discover the truth behind the mystery of a robbery-murder in a small California town in 1939. In her newest mystery, THE REPORTER’S STORY, a house burglary in 1912 San Francisco piques a young reporter’s instincts that leads to intrigue and murder.

Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California's Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. Strand lives with her collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and enjoys exploring and writing about the growing wine region in the Ramona Valley near San Diego. 

A house burglary in 1912 San Francisco that the victim denies happening piques Emma Matheson’s reporter instincts. Why would a businessman deny that recovered loot was his and forego collecting his $8,000 worth of stolen jewelry? Why did he fire his maid and butler who originally reported the theft? The more she pursues the burglary that wasn’t a burglary, the more she sees it as a major story, involving murder, intrigue, and smuggling. Can she solve it and write the story that could project her to become the world-famous reporter she so covets? Or will she become one of its victims?

Purchase Links


Amazon -- paperback and Kindle
Unicorn Books and Gifts - signed paperback 

Other books available in e-book and book format at:
Unicorn Books and Gifts - signed paperbacks

For Nook at:

Author Links

Twitter:  @joycetstrand

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