Derek Tillotson

The Protagonist

After weeks of breezing through his first novel, Scott discovered writer's block.

Scott had a plan: Get an idea for a story. Plot it out. Write one hundred thousand words. Do a few edits and rewrites. Then, format it and sell it on the internet. It was a foolproof plan to earn easy money doing something he loved.

It should have been easy. Scott loved his idea for a science-fiction piece about a man from the year 2017 who gets transported to the year 7102. The protagonist would discover the human race still existed. And Earth not only existed, but was still habitable (which would be quite the surprise to a well-educated person from 2017). But humans were no longer the alpha species. Centuries earlier, a cat-like alien race invaded and enslaved humanity. The reader would follow the protagonist as he tried to liberate humanity and return to his own time.

Everything was perfect. That was, until Scott reached the part where the protagonist seduces the slavers' daughter in order to infiltrate the enemy headquarters.

Scott was not terribly experienced in relationships. He was not completely clueless, as he had had his fair share of dates, flings, and love — he was seeing someone currently, as a matter of fact — but the issue was that he had never had casual sex with someone he was expected to hate. It was a foreign concept.

Scott realized that the romance angle was not only outside his knowledge, it was rather strange. There were not a lot of stories where a man had sex with a cat — at least not stories he was familiar with — so he was afraid this approach could hurt his book's marketability. Still, after sleeping on it, he decided it was the story he needed to tell.

And even if Scott had wanted to remove the scene, it had been part of the protagonist's plan for so long, it had become essential to the story. It would take days to make the appropriate changes. And Scott knew that if he broke his pace, he would eventually stop writing altogether. He didn't want that. He loved writing.

The protagonist was going to have sex with the cat.

Scott's writer's block came immediately after that scene. What would happen after the protagonist and the slaver's daughter were intimate? Would they lie in bed and talk? Would they cuddle? Would one of them leave or light a cigarette? All of these things rattled Scott's brain. He had spent two days writing that scene. And now, over seventy-eight thousand words into his novel, he was stuck. Certainly, if Scott could write more than four thousand words about a man sleeping with a cat, he should have zero problem figuring out what to do next.

He thought for a while. The reason why the protagonist wanted to seduce the slaver's daughter was to sneak out of her room after she fell asleep, gain access to her father's chambers, and kill him. But after four thousand words of groping, yowling, petting, purring, and double entendres, the protagonist realized he was falling in love. He was going to start second-guessing all the decisions he had made up to that point.

The slaver's daughter was next to him, sleeping and purring, but the protagonist was wide awake. He was wondering what his next move would be, dwelling on his newfound feelings.

Scott tried to imagine himself as the protagonist, as he had done many times over the past few days. He pondered what he would do if he had had sex with a cat, whose father was his enemy. He decided the best move was to have the protagonist scratch her neck for a while. When she was asleep, he'd slide out of bed, put his clothes on, do what must be done, and return before she woke. It was a perfect plan, which is why Scott hated it.

Scott did not enjoy his characters having an easy time. He preferred action over speaking. He preferred challenges over celebrations. He preferred tactical sex over casual sex. He wanted his characters to struggle. And to grow strong because of it.

The protagonist neared the slavemaster's quarters. He was holding a spearhead he stole from a decorative display in the hallway. He slowly pushed the door open. It was dark. Not only was it well after midnight, Earth's rulers had little need for excess lighting. It was one of their greatest advantages over humanity.

The protagonist listened for a moment. The aliens often slept during the night, but they rarely slept all night. Instead of one long rest, they would take intermittent naps. This was another advantage over humanity. Humans required a long period of rest every sun cycle. During the initial attacks, the world's major cities were all sacked after dark.

Sleep would soon be the slaver's downfall. The protagonist could hear the steady breathing of slumber. He had to strike immediately, yet move swiftly and quietly. Before closing the door, he used the light from the hall to find his target. He couldn't see it's face, but he saw enough to know where he had to strike. He planned the attack in his head and shut the door. This was it. One wrong move and his target would awaken, and there was no chance Scott would be able to win in hand-to-hand combat, even if he was armed. He had to land the kill in one blow.

He inched closer. He sensed he was standing over his target. Shaking, the protagonist tightened his grip on the spearhead and raised it high.

Scott was unhappy with the way this was going.

He deleted the scene, and he was back to where he started: With a man who had just fornicated with a cat-like alien woman and was falling in love. Scott realized that, in some ways, this was a good problem to have. Few authors — even the all-time greats — would have thought of a scenario as gripping as this. And many of the ones capable of such a thought would have censored themselves out of social fear. Scott considered himself a trailblazer, working on something revolutionary.

It was at that moment when Scott realized what he had to do. He needed to do a full pivot to a love story. Otherwise, the novel would be nothing more than generic sci-fi gibberish. For a second, he considered a twist consisting of more characters sleeping with cats, but decided against it. The protagonist (and his tale of love) was the only piece that mattered to Scott. He viewed the protagonist as synonymous with himself, in many ways.

Instead of murdering her father, the protagonist fell asleep, caressing the woman he had come to love so dearly. He began to dream about their potential future together. Would they have children? What would they look like? What would happen to them when her father found out? Would she help him go back to his time? Would she go back with him? The dream addressed all those scenarios. Scott liked writing dream sequences because they allowed him to get as weird as possible. It was a nice change of pace to an otherwise serious novel. And an even better change of pace from his day job, working as a veterinarian.

Scott was on a roll. This protagonist's leap forward in time was originally supposed to be a journey to get back home, like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Now, it morphed into one of the greatest love stories Scott had ever witnessed. And as the words kept flowing from his mind to his computer, Scott was becoming proud of his work. He had read romance novels and love stories, but nothing ever seemed so real and relatable to what he was writing now. Scott was no longer Baum, he was Shakespeare.

Three thousand words later, Scott decided it was best to call it a day. He saved his draft, and made a backup. Then, he went to lie down on his bed. He enjoyed writing, and for years he was told he was great at it. But this was the first time he had ever felt like he was creating art.

He smiled as he stared at the ceiling. When he started this project, he was simply attempting to have fun, do something he loved, and hopefully earn some money. But he never expected to have a day like this, where everything clicked so well that he changed the entire theme of the story on a whim. It had become a beautiful, raw tale of two beings experiencing forbidden love, the kind Scott admired the most.

He lay there a while, thinking he should do something more productive on his day off work. He looked at his watch. It was 3:34 PM. Scott hadn't eaten in about eight hours. He supposed it would be best to get food and think about something else for the rest of the day.

However, before he got up, Scott felt something jump onto his bed. He turned his head to the right as Mitzi curled next to him. "Mrow," she said as she looked at him with those gorgeous green eyes.


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