November 18, 2017, 09:53:30 AM

Author Topic: Farmboy of Destiny  (Read 1377 times)

Offline Bradley Darewood

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Farmboy of Destiny
« on: August 21, 2017, 04:43:50 AM »
So the ever-brilliant @cupiscent humored me some valuable advice in a message and I thought I'd open part of it up here in case anyone wants to throw down.

Quote from: cupiescent
First up, though, let me make a sidebar caveat about the Farmboy of Destiny. A big part of my issue with this trope and its common depiction in fantasy is that it lacks agency.… I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

First off, let me say that I don’t have the trope allergy so many others do.  I have nostalgic love of the tropes i grew up with, but I do break away, and when I do it’s because I want to *say something*.  Ultimately this means my current WIP subverts tropes, meaning people who hate princesses getting saved and etc etc are going to write me off without realizing that I do turn that on it’s head by the end. 

But back to the Farmboy of Destiny— I think you hit on something important here.  When Harper Collins reviewed my WIP, they weren’t feeling my MC.  He was missing something.  He doesn’t have anything extraordinary— even less so than a Farmboy of Destiny!  He’s not special by nature— he’s just trying to survive.  He’s hearing stories about knights slaying dragons and saving princesses, and it’s something he can never be.  The book (which is really the first act of a 300k book I wanted to write, but since 300k isn’t kosher….) leaves him responding to situations he’s thrust into (because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time) until the very end, when he finds his agency at one pivotal moment in the second to last chapter (ironically in deciding *not* to be the “hero” and becoming a rebel and an exile instead).  In subsequent books he *becomes* extraordinary— as he rises to meet challenges and learns what he needs to of his own volition and initiative.

This presents a problem for me— It’s great in theory but I need something to hook the reader to the character, and I don’t think I’ve successfully accomplished that.  I’m still wrestling with this problem.

Quote from: cupiescent
This is not necessarily a problem by itself! I mean, Scarlett O'Hara has the most mundane of motives: she wants to never be hungry again. What makes her an amazing and compelling character is what she's prepared to do in pursuit of that motive. That's the extraordinary.

The flipside is a book I read that I was so unmoved by I can't even remember the title. (One Goodreads check later: it's Giant Thief by David Tallerman, and now that I actually look at that surname and that title side by side, all I can say is: seriously, dude? Sure, the book is about a thief stealing a giant, but TALLERMAN?? ahem. anyway. My point is...) Throughout the majority of the book, the main character's primary goal is getting out of this situation, while the situation itself is the main plot. While his desire to escape to safety makes sense, it and the main plot undermined each other, instead of one-upping each other.

I think this probably boils down in essence to: give the reader at least one compelling reason to care about this character in this situation. Whether it's because s/he is capable (meta/physically or emotionally) of incredible things and you want to marvel at their audacity, or whether it's because the situation is so damn important/fraught/hilarious you need to keep watching it unravel, have a Reason.

(If your reason why I should hear about these adventures is because of what the character does after them, then perhaps this is not the story you really want to tell.)

With your guy, trying to survive is a fundamental and compelling and above all relatable goal. We can all understand it. But because it's something everyone feels, the question is why we should care about this guy surviving. Why is his story compelling and deserving of being told? And the two big questions that jump out for me as having the potential for an answer: what is he prepared to do in order to survive? and why is it important that he survive? Somewhere in there is - or can be inserted - a strong hook to keep the reader engaged.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2017, 04:48:19 AM by Bradley Darewood »

Offline Peat

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2017, 10:38:18 PM »
I'm not entirely sure whether we're getting at FoDs in general or your specific situation, or what exactly your situation is, but I'm gonna blather on about what I think is being said and hope its helpful.

First off, a character doesn't have to be active. It sure makes life easier, but American Gods became huge with a central character who's famously passive. I'd argue that the Belgariad is a prime example of how a FoD can say a pawn the whole damn series and still engage people. And I don't think being Active is the be-all and end-all. Bradley, have you considered giving him an eyepatch and parrot (or similar other outlandish trademark apparel/look/characteristic that just makes the character seem cooler)?

However... a lot of FoDs are active. Not to begin with, but they grow into agency. Harry Potter. Pug. And, I think the most interesting one here, Rand Al'Thor. We don't see Rand become Superbad until the end of the book; you don't need your wizard wand to get agency. But because he's split up from the others and Mat's getting sick, he has to do things. Take charge. And that echoes the sense of responsibility he shows that finally triggers obvious powers, and that was behind the retrospective foreshadows that he was indeed special.

So you can keep the arc you have providing you a) Make clear he's reacting for a reason beyond his own survival (even if its as simple as survival of a friend) and b) The new situations he has to react to are a result of *his* actions and not anyone else's. At least, that's how I see the lessons of the first part of the Rand Al'Thor story.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2017, 04:21:57 AM »
First off, let me say that I don’t have the trope allergy so many others do.

There are no good or bad tropes - they're just conventions, things we've seen often enough to name, and we've literally seen it all, whether you number plots at three like Aristotle, or 36, or whatever. And whether narrow, like men rescuing damsels, or broad like happy endings, they're neutral. They are the building blocks of story, and trying to write and avoid them is like trying to write without using words, or writing words without letters. It's the execution of the trope that defines its merits. When done well, we often don't notice them. And even when we do, they're not always 'bad.' A poorly delivered trope is a cliché, while well-executed ones usually receive more distinctive terms.

In reading Cupiscent's comment, something struck me as vastly different between his view and mine when I saw this line:

"With your guy, trying to survive is a fundamental and compelling and above all relatable goal. We can all understand it. But because it's something everyone feels, the question is why we should care about this guy surviving. Why is his story compelling and deserving of being told?"

It seemed to me that this is looking for what doesn't exist - some kind of demonstration that that character is worthy - as if there is some level of "interesting" that must be achieved, some level of depth required to reach a threshold of distinctiveness. Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is anything but interesting or distinctive (unless you count his distinctive lack of distinctiveness). Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

I believe seeking these kinds of things could not be further off course from achieving the ONLY character trait of value in terms of making a story compelling. Empathy. More important than concept or vivid description or taught plot lines - what makes a story compelling is seeing ourselves. And therein lies the rub. I've not read your stuff, but the reaction you posted, Bradley, to my eyes points to one or two of two issues: either you failed to achieve empathy with Cupiscent or you failed to achieve it at all. And that's not a criticism - I've not seen the work. But I have seen the symptom, and there's a gap that people try to leap when describing what hasn't moved them, and they toss all manner of things in the gap to do so. Providing reasons to care is literally the most crass thing I've seen in a while. I first encountered the term on the cover of a book a sociopathic field officer was reading. It's title "How to care" - and yes, empathy was an emotion the man was incapable of.

This guy says it better than I, using an example we're all familiar with.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rhMu6FFJPw

« Last Edit: August 22, 2017, 04:23:58 AM by The Gem Cutter »
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2017, 04:56:44 AM »
Disclaimer: objects in the mirror may be less brilliant than alleged. ;)

To clarify my comments slightly: there are a lot of classic FoDs who are totally passive until later. But they're classic. Would that delivery of the trope be as satisfying today? (Not to me, personally; I fear I have been glutted.)

I think Harry Potter is a different sort of FoD: from the outset, he is resisting the oppression of the forces that would keep him ordinary, and that oppression itself makes him unusual and interesting from the outset. Who is this kid, that he is kept in a room under the stairs? We are outraged on his behalf. We want to see him overthrow this. We're hooked.

Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

Totally disagree. Frodo - and indeed all his companions save Sam - are really weird hobbits who are actually keen to go on an adventure. Frodo in particular is painted as have significant wanderlust. He wants something different. He wants to see where the road goes. (And it comes back to bite him.)

Providing reasons to care is literally the most crass thing I've seen in a while.

Thanks? :p

Yes, every person matters. I believe that every person is worth reading about. (It's a significant part of why I go on and on about diversity in story representation.) But readers only have finite time. They can only read so many stories. They cannot read all the stories. It is simply impossible. So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I believe this pretty strongly myself, but I'd also add that it's also advice I see from lit agents and editors: they want to have a strong connection with a character in the first 30-50 pages, to see what they want to achieve, to see the obstacles, and to care about the outcome.

Sidenote: I haven't read Bradley's work either. We were talking generalities.
Other sidenote: I'm a girl, TGC. :)

Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2017, 07:17:34 AM »
I don't see myself ever writing one of these "Farmboys of Destiny". Give me a warrior princess who's already received substantial education in the martial arts (and other skills pertinent to adventuring) any day.

I suspect FoD-type characters are popular simply because they have the most obvious character arcs. It's easy to imagine where a character has room to "grow" if they start off immature and unskilled, and the coming-of-age experience is something most adults can relate to on some level. With a character who's already badass from the beginning, you have to dig deeper to find potential arcs since you can't do a coming-of-age with them.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2017, 09:24:06 PM »
Sorry about your gender reversal Cupiscent. I had you confused with one of the others here that I've never met :)

Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

Totally disagree. Frodo - and indeed all his companions save Sam - are really weird hobbits who are actually keen to go on an adventure. Frodo in particular is painted as have significant wanderlust. He wants something different. He wants to see where the road goes. (And it comes back to bite him.)


He might be an unusual hobbit - in that he actually leaves the Shire and all that - but he almost never argues with anyone, he has little conflict with anyone but the ring (they exist, but spread across the huge expanse of narrative, they're brief and involuntary). "Most interesting" of a species of the most boring race is not a discriminator of value. Hobbits have had like two battles in their entire, 4,000 year history. What he really is, and this goes to my point, is EXTREMELY sympathetic.

He is boring in his outlook, but his outlook is one we all identify with and, most importantly, sympathize with. He's the wisest and best educated of his friends, and he has great friends! And he sees their worth. In other words, he is someone we would all like to be friends with, and he's the kind of friend we all wish that we were. But beyond that, he's an exceedingly boring character. Take him out of the quest, and we'd care no more for him than Farmer Maggot - who's objectively WAY more interesting with those huge dogs.

There's no objective reason to care about Frodo or his sacrifice. We care because in him, we see ourselves.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2017, 09:26:15 PM by The Gem Cutter »
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Offline abatch

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2017, 09:58:10 PM »
I suppose the trope is lazy. On the other hand, there's got to be a reason it's been around for so long. Perhaps it speaks to the untapped extraordinariness in any of us.  It's also difficult to invent new tropes.

Offline Lanko

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Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2017, 10:14:43 PM »
I only watched the movies so my perception of those characters are based on that.

I pretty much agree with Gem Cutter and even add to that that I never actually saw myself in him. Heck, I found Frodo at times insufferable with his Chosen One signal post over his head. And his tendency to get hypnotized/drowned/captured/wounded/etc by everything all the time absolutely could not make me identify myself as well. I wouldn't be that stupid to fall for all that all the time!

While I can give props to JRR for subverting the trope and creating a chosen farmboy who is frail and can't fight in absolutely any circumstance and defeats the dark lord without even fighting him, Frodo is... meh.

Heck, I don't even want him as my friend, I would want Sam instead. Now that's a friend.

Except maybe Smeagol, characterization, at least in the movies, was not a strong point for me. I liked what they represented (the archetype) and I believe that's how a fantasy world done properly and explored with seriousness would be like.
Also, it does have the feeling of mythology, like the Norse ones and even maybe Arthurians ones, done right as well.

In essence, what I enjoyed most was the atmosphere and sense of exploration, like seeing and almost being on what a magical/mythological Arthurian/Norse age would look like. The landscapes, adventure, exploration and mysteries of the world still making one wonder about them, instead of our pragmatic and fact-based world that has almost (or really nothing) none of that magic and wonder of ages past left. 

Which is curious, as in another thread everyone said characters are the most important and then we look at LoTR and while they're iconic characters, I think they were carried to that status totally by the plot/setting/atmosphere rather than anything they actually did.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2017, 10:16:22 PM by Lanko »
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Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2017, 10:17:56 PM »
There are no good or bad tropes - they're just conventions, things we've seen often enough to name, and we've literally seen it all, whether you number plots at three like Aristotle, or 36, or whatever.

Yes, I make heavy use of tropes, as there really aren't any bad tropes. But there are tropes that people tend to use lazily, and when I use a familiar one I do my best to give it depth and justification.

Quote
I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

I rather agree with this. I'm not fond of entirely unimpressive nobodies whose life suddenly fills with people telling them how important they are, based on no qualifications that we can see, and getting carried through danger by a cadre of bodyguards until they finally come into their own. I'm not impressed by a villain who can be defeated by someone who really seems like an absolute Joe Average.

When I did my own take on the "youngster discovers that they have special powers" in The Silent War it was important to me that Katja not become the Ultimate Badass in record time... but also that she was tough and at least somewhat skilled to begin with. Her mentor just made her better. And better and better and better as the series progressed.

I only watched the movies so my perception of those characters are based on that.

I pretty much agree with Gem Cutter and even add to that that I never actually saw myself in him. Heck, I found Frodo at times insufferable with his Chosen One signal post over his head. And his tendency to get hypnotized/drowned/captured/wounded/etc by everything all the time absolutely could not make me identify myself as well. I wouldn't be that stupid to fall for all that all the time!

I will say in Frodo's defence that I feel the movies were very unfair to him. The Frodo of the books was a good deal tougher, and not a constant lamb on the freeway.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2017, 10:20:24 PM by Eli_Freysson »
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Offline Peat

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #9 on: August 23, 2017, 12:29:50 AM »
So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I believe this pretty strongly myself, but I'd also add that it's also advice I see from lit agents and editors: they want to have a strong connection with a character in the first 30-50 pages, to see what they want to achieve, to see the obstacles, and to care about the outcome.

I couldn't agree with this any more if I tried.

And it isn't a demand for specific things. Its a demand for just something - anything - that makes the reader want to know about the character and their story. Anything you can think of - including going through experiences we empathise with.

After all, everyone has their own different idea of what makes a character worth caring for. Cupiscent and Eli are less likely to care for a character that starts unformed. Other people actively enjoy it. I don't really have an opinion either way. TGC thinks Smiley and Frodo aren't interesting. Cupiscent disagrees about Frodo; I vehemently disagree about Smiley. I find the dichotomy of a "breathtakingly ordinary" rather diffident person in poor-ish circumstance who nevertheless has clearly been and still is rather special in terms of his ability and standing fascinating. Etc.etc.


I also think that while there aren't good tropes and bad tropes, there are good portrayals and bad portrayals. The more a trope has been used and the more its characteristics go against the trends of popular fiction, the harder it is to do it well. FoD is at the heart of most of fantasy's major works and does naturally lend itself to a degree of passivity/slowness that is somewhat against trend these days.

Which is not to say its a bad trope. Au contraire, the fact its been used by all the 800lb gorillas in the room points to the fact its a fookin' awesome trope. Everyone knows about the power of the coming of age story. But it is a difficult to use trope.


Incidentally, I don't think its too difficult to come up with arcs around characters who start at level 10 rather than level 1. There's still the journey to level 20. Just that they don't seem to be as popular for whatever reason. Even someone who starts at level 20 still has life goals to achieve like Rescue Their Daughter, Wreck Shit And Relationships For Queen & Country, Solve The Cast That Killed Their Partner... those mightn't be fantasy big, but they're other genre big.


Finally, at least going by the books, I don't think Frodo is a FoD. He's not a farmboy (pedantic maybe), he doesn't have a destiny (quite important) and he doesn't power up at all. He's just as capable at the end as he is at the start; arguably less so, due to the wounds he's taken. In fact - crucially - I don't think LotR is a coming of age story for him at all. He's 50 years old when he leaves the shire (okay, that's maybe mid-thirties in hobbit years) and his world view doesn't change all that much and where it does, its not from maturity, but from damage. Pippin and Merry have coming of age stories; arguably, so does Aragorn (and two of those three do have destinies). But Frodo? Nah.

And I certainly think Tolkien would have been rather surprised to hear he was a subversion of the FoD trope as I'm not sure he'd have even recognised such a thing as existing.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2017, 01:12:21 AM »
I just want to highlight a bit of nuance that I'm not sure I've made clear...

Quote from: cupiscent
First up, though, let me make a sidebar caveat about the Farmboy of Destiny. A big part of my issue with this trope and its common depiction in fantasy is that it lacks agency.… I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

Lack of agency is my only real concern, not the trope itself. (Like others have said: you can do any trope well, or poorly.) I don't mind seeing a level-1 character come of age, as long as they want to grow up. I don't even mind FoDs who have the plot happen to them, as long as they are moving themselves as well from page 1. I just want to see the active potential in the character right from the get-go. And that can be as small as talking back to an authority figure with good reason. It can be staring up at the night sky and yearning (though I admit I prefer it to be a specific yearning rather than a "one day my prince/adventure will come" woffle; Luke wants to go to fighter pilot school, but that's not the adventure he ends up in). Show me that hint, that burn, that seed-of-something, and I will trust you that it will grow and blossom, and I will come along to see it happen. (Note: this is about the character's emotional potential, not skill potential. Harry Potter's talking to snakes is interesting, but it's his need to escape oppression that makes him compelling to me.)

Offline Peat

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2017, 02:00:18 AM »
Another example of small scale agency and potential might be Jon Snow deliberately counting himself out of the count of Eddard's children so his siblings can have the Direwolves. A real Save the Cat moment that.

Offline Lanko

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Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2017, 02:20:51 AM »
It seems strange to say this today, but LoTR was very subversive regarding common tropes back then. Just shows how the passage of time makes the uncommon become the thing to be beaten later.

But it seems hard to believe Frodo is not a FoD. Not even just for the fact that all Hobbits are apparently farmers when they are not singing, eating and playing.
It's not a prophesied destiny, but for reasons unknown he's still the only one who can resist the pull of the ring (well, Bilbo too and apparently all Hobbits had some resistance) and of all Hobbits the only one who has the will and endurance to carry it all the way to Mordor.

Humans and even elves are easily corrupted by it and he's even brought to a council of all the races who places the burden on him because of how special he is in regards to everyone else - pure of heart, no lust for power, self-sacrifice for the Shire, etc etc.
Heck, like the majority of cases of the trope, trouble searched for him to get his ass moving.

Regardless, everyone points out how only Frodo and no one else can do it.

Now the trope doesn't play as usual with him. He's no fighter and never learns to fight. He doesn't unite banners and armies under him. As said, he doesn't power up. Him and the villain don't even talk to each other.
In fact, he actually fails the quest in the end and takes the ring for himself. If wasn't for Gollum...

But he's still the humble boy, living, if not isolated himself, in an isolated community, and now goes see the vastness of the world for the first time, comes from a farming community and the only one capable of saving the world and carry the fate of the world on his shoulders.
Because it didn't matter if the armies of orcs, uruks, nazguls and etc were defeated, they wouldn't be able to destroy Sauron, who would just keep creating more. Only Frodo could do it.
 
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Offline Peat

Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2017, 02:53:45 AM »
Not all hobbits are farmers. Richer hobbits clearly live a lifestyle similar to an English country squire - rich enough to never need work thanks to land ownership and inherited wealth. And Frodo is a gentleman. Plus, to be pedantic, there's plenty of hobbits shown in trades - gardeners, publicans, mill owners, sheriffs.

Sam carried the ring too and was able to give it up too. We don't know how many hobbits could have had carried the ring all the way to Mordor because its not part of the story but given the stellar record of the three hobbits that did, there probably were others. Peregrin survives looking at Sauron through the palantir - they're tough like that. Just they didn't inherit it. In any case, being an exceptional individual doesn't equal having a destiny.

And trouble searching for the main character while he's happy at home is a very common story start that doesn't make someone a FoD.

I'll give you that he's from an isolated community and goes to see the wide wide world. But I don't think that's unique to FoDs  either - or even bildungsromans in general - or definitely necessary to being a FoD.

I certainly think he's an inspiration of the trope. But an actual example? If he is, he's very far from a perfect one.
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Offline Bradley Darewood

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Re: Farmboy of Destiny
« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2017, 05:00:59 AM »
OMG I'm overwhelmed by things I want to respond to...

I'm not entirely sure whether we're getting at FoDs in general or your specific situation, or what exactly your situation is, but I'm gonna blather on about what I think is being said and hope its helpful.

I just liked the ring of "Farmboy of Destiny" but really I should have titled this thread Farmboy of Destiny and Other Ways to Make Your MC Interesting (or Fail at It)

First off, a character doesn't have to be active.

Yay!

I'd argue that the Belgariad is a prime example of how a FoD can say a pawn the whole damn series and still engage people.

Could you expand on that? Haven't read that series yet.

However... a lot of FoDs are active. Not to begin with, but they grow into agency. blah blah blah Harry Potter blah blah blah Rand al'Thor

So I've actually got that going on in my story--my MC finds his agency in the second to last chapter.  The difference is that you were waiting for the other shoe to drop in both those stories-- Harry had the mark from Voldemort, Moraine came to town expressly to find Rand-- they grew into their agency but the reader knew they were the Chosen One from the beginning.  What if your MC isn't the chosen one per se, but finds his/her agency on their own?  What do you do to hook the reader in the beginning?

I believe seeking these kinds of things could not be further off course from achieving the ONLY character trait of value in terms of making a story compelling. Empathy. More important than concept or vivid description or taught plot lines - what makes a story compelling is seeing ourselves.

I think you're onto something here-- empathy is a powerful way of getting the reader interested (but not the only... there's the voyeurism of enjoying a decidedly un-empathetic character too among other options).  I think what makes the Farmboy for me is that growing up and feeling powerless and insignificant in the world, it was always great to dream of being more than who you were. Fantasy novels were a way to do that, reading about not-special guys (and on rarer occasions than there should be, girls) realizing they were really the magic prince capable of pulling the sword from the stone and saving the world or whatever.  It's easy to relate to that desire, and it gives the quality both the escape we're hungry for and (like @NinjaRaptor says) it's the perfect arc in which to show growth as well-- becoming a hero is also becoming a man etc. (unfortunately in my story the character becomes a man by becoming a not-hero... so much for escapes) While Frodo is hardly a farmboy, hobbits are overlooked an insignificant on the world stage so it is a humble beginnings story in that sense-- perhaps LOTR part 2 aka Terry Brooks's Shannara series-- tapped into the humble beginnings that made Frodo work as an MC, by making the story about a farmboy instead... and tons of farmboys tumbled into epic fantasy thereafter (Richard Cypher, Rand al'Thor...) as an orphan, Harry Potter definitely fits that humble beginnings mold.

Tho it looks like we can go two routes here: one with agency another without:

Lack of agency is my only real concern, not the trope itself. I just want to see the active potential in the character right from the get-go. And that can be as small as talking back to an authority figure with good reason. It can be staring up at the night sky and yearning... Show me that hint, that burn, that seed-of-something, and I will trust you that it will grow and blossom, and I will come along to see it happen. (Note: this is about the character's emotional potential, not skill potential. Harry Potter's talking to snakes is interesting, but it's his need to escape oppression that makes him compelling to me.)

That's the agency side.  The non agency side:

I don't think being Active is the be-all and end-all. Bradley, have you considered giving him an eyepatch and parrot (or similar other outlandish trademark apparel/look/characteristic that just makes the character seem cooler)?

Yeah I'm still trying to figure that one out @Peat . So far I got nothing.

@Lanko had some nice thoughts here:

In essence, what I enjoyed most was the atmosphere and sense of exploration, like seeing and almost being on what a magical/mythological Arthurian/Norse age would look like. The landscapes, adventure, exploration and mysteries of the world still making one wonder about them, instead of our pragmatic and fact-based world that has almost (or really nothing) none of that magic and wonder of ages past left. 

Which is curious, as in another thread everyone said characters are the most important and then we look at LoTR and while they're iconic characters, I think they were carried to that status totally by the plot/setting/atmosphere rather than anything they actually did.

and @The Gem Cutter 's thing about empathy, seconded in a way by Peat when he said "Make clear he's reacting for a reason beyond his own survival. (even if its as simple as survival of a friend) " Someone also mentioned Jon Snow in his Save the Cat moment... doing something nice makes people like you. (tho I will note that in my first writing of my novel, I wanted my MC's selflessness to be a surprise-- he was super douchey and greedy until Ch 30 when he takes all his money and gives it to his starving mother and the reader is supposed to be like "oooooooohhhh I misjudged him!" when nobody liked him enough to read that far, I went back and gave him some more nice protagonist qualities :( but I'm sad about that)

I think @cupiscent gives some really pro advice and hits at the core of things here:

So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I couldn't agree with this any more if I tried.

And it isn't a demand for specific things. Its a demand for just something - anything - that makes the reader want to know about the character and their story. Anything you can think of - including going through experiences we empathise with.

From a PM with cupiescent:
Quote from: cupiscent
I think this probably boils down in essence to: give the reader at least one compelling reason to care about this character in this situation. Whether it's because s/he is capable (meta/physically or emotionally) of incredible things and you want to marvel at their audacity, or whether it's because the situation is so damn important/fraught/hilarious you need to keep watching it unravel, have a Reason.

So let me try to make a chart of what we have so far:

WAYS TO MAKE YOUR NOVEL INTERESTING IN THE FIRST 30 PAGES

Make your character relatable/empathetic from the beginning
* Humble beginnings (Farmboy of Destiny)
* Do something selfless (Save the Cat)
* Exhibit relatable emotions/needs/drives right away
* Oppress your character-- cupiescent's "Outraged on their behalf"

Hint at a character development
* Greatness is coming (Farmboy of Destiny)
* Reveal your character's *emotional* potential (eg. cupiescent's mention of Harry Potter and oppression)
* Tease hidden depths (maybe this is my broader version of what cupiescent said above)

Hint at things to anticipate about your character
* Greatness is already here (Peat's eyepatch or Ninjaraptor's warrior princess)
* Extreme drive/audacity (PM with cupiescent)
* comedy (PM with cupiescent)
* what is he prepared to do in order to survive? (PM with cupiescent)

Hint at an exciting setting to explore (all from Lanko)
* Rich atmosphere and landscapes
* Mysteries
* Adventures/Exploration
* Magic and wonder

Plot (added by me)
* Hint at the meaningful plot developments you have in store at the end
* why is it important that your MC survive? (PM with cupiescent)


Hmmmm.... so if I want to stick with an M/C who seems like a greedy douche, has no birthright, isn't chosen, isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two, and has no agency until the end of the story where he becomes hated by everyone in the kingdom for what he's done....but beneath it all really wants to do the right thing... am I shit out of luck?  How do I do a better job of hooking the reader into the character, setting and plot in the beginning