Writers’ ability to create new characters never ceases to astound me. Indeed, for as much as we hear that Hollywood is “out of ideas,” the literary world seems to be full to bursting with them. In just the last few years some of the most noteworthy books I’ve read have concerned a girl on a semi-fantastical journey launched from her family’s Everglades gator-wrestling attraction (Swamplandia! by Karen Russell); a tale of President Lincoln’s son in a state of purgatory (Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders); and a spellbinding narrative in which trees are as much main characters as people (The Overstory by Richard Powers).
A great written story can be spun out of just about any sort of character, provided a writer has a good idea, a bit of talent, and a great deal of imagination. Even with the innumerable ideas that have been tried though, I still catch myself daydreaming now and then about the characters or stories I’d like to read (or perhaps write). Lately, I’ve been musing about some more modern ideas for protagonists that – to my knowledge – haven’t really been tried yet.
Here are a few I’ve come up with.
1. A Space Voyager’s Spouse
Space travel is nothing new in fiction. From realistic stories to full-fledged science fiction and everything in between, there have been all kinds of tales written about people venturing out into space. What we don’t see too much of though is writing about the people who might one day be left behind by those heading out on deep space explorations. For instance, imagine Mark Watney, the central character in The Martian, had had a wife on Earth. Wouldn’t her story be fascinating as well? A few years ago, when people were signing up for a highly publicized one-way ticket to Mars, there was actually a profile about one woman’s husband who was coming to grips with never seeing her again. I’d love to see this sort of character fleshed out more in a full-length, realistic, yet fictional account. It feels like an aspect of modern space exploration we don’t consider, yet one of the most deeply human components of it all.
2. A DJ
Personally I’m not wildly into the DJ or electronic music scene. Nevertheless, we have works of fiction pertaining to most every genre of music that’s ever dominated our culture – save for modern DJs (to my knowledge, at least). This just seems to be leaving something of a gap, and I would imagine that the right author could spin a fascinating story out of a character like this. Most of these people are fairly young when they make it big, and from that point forward they travel the world playing shows and festivals, with crowds full of people responding to their every whim. It’s an interesting life whether or not you like the music.
3. A VR World Architect
Virtual reality has been a hot topic for years now, and it’s had a place in popular fiction for decades. There’s fairly little talk, however, about who might design and control VR worlds if and when they become more sophisticated. In fact, the closest example I could think of in fiction (never mind books specifically) is the vaguely comical “Architect” character in The Matrix films. I’d be curious to see an inventive author draw up such a character though – someone with a god-like ability to control, manipulate, and monitor a VR world catering to thousands or millions of users in the near future. It’s not exactly a comfortable idea, but it’s an interesting character outline that could make for a fun read.
4. A Digital Gambler
Gambling fiction, in books, film, and TV, has covered just about every relevant type of character – save for a modern, digital gambler. That means that most gambling fiction also feels decidedly dated these days, and fails to speak to the shifting nature of casinos worldwide. The fact is, this nature is now largely digital. From online poker rooms to websites full of slot video games, people interested in this kind of activity can now find whatever they might want through an app or browser. Additionally, expanding payment options and a great deal of marketing have made more people interested to begin with, effectively enlarging what was once a niche culture. This all results in a gigantic global industry about which there’s virtually no fiction. I can’t say how the story would play out, but a book revolving around a protagonist who moonlights as an online poker star, or makes a career in digital gambling, would at least be current – and could be pretty interesting.
5. A Marine Conservationist
We hear quite a lot these days about conservation and environmental clean-up, but relatively little about specific jobs or roles. That is to say, we all know that we should recycle, and many of us are interested in embracing solar tech or switching to electric cars, but very few of us would even know where to start if we wanted to be more proactive about healing our environment. Expanding on this, I’d love to read a book about a marine conservationist in the 21st century. This is a job you can actually volunteer for, and it’s a unique, tragic, rewarding, and exhilarating one all at once (or so I’d imagine). Teasing all of this out through a core character could make for an excellent exercise, provided a good enough story surrounded said character.
Author: Evan Sutton