Fresh from publication in the avant-garde South-East Asian literary magazine Outcast (Volume III, Once Upon a Time) with his short story ‘City of Bridges’, twenty-one-year old Gianni Ocaña is now testing his creativity with a first novel, titled ‘Protagonista’, to be posted in regular instalments on Wattpad throughout summer and beyond.
“Every so often, hopefully weekly but more realistically fortnightly, I will post a new chapter to this online platform that affords exposure to writers and illustrators. I am introducing every chapter with my hand-drawn illustrations, to highlight the salient parts of the cepisode,” the young author says.
The novel fits in the romance genre with some forays into horror and fantasy. Its most captivating stylistic trick is narrating the storyline in first person, but from the perspective of both protagonists, so that each chapter is split in two parallel narratives, one delivered by the Dreamer, closely followed by his love interest (even before knowing it), the Millionaire, offering his own rebuttal.
In other words: a story so nice you gotta read it twice! And because it is delivered feuilleton style, it will contain plenty of cliff-hangers to keep readers hooked and hungry for more, so that they return to Wattpad regularly.
Gianni claims this to be a loosely autobiographic story, largely based on his recurrent dreams: “Set in Gibraltar and in a make-believe metropolis the readers won’t have any trouble to identify with the real one that inspired it, this is an intense love story between two young men, developing throughout their twenties, but there is no definite ‘happily ever after’, so I can leave my options open for the sequel, and perhaps a trilogy.”
The main character concocts his love interest in his dreams and falls in love with him. Later, through some spectacular shifts in reality, he bumps into him in person over and over again, and has to overcome many obstacles to conquer his heart.
“I prefer writing in first person and past tense, because it is easier to identify in the narrator and explore his thoughts and actions, but first person obviously poses some limitations in the story’s objectivity, and makes it unilateral when it comes down to analysing other characters’ feelings, motivations or actions when the narrator isn’t present.
“There are always two or more sides to one story: I reckon that telling them both or all helps readers learn about twists in the plot gradually, with each side highlighting what is most relevant for them and altogether contributing to the bigger picture.”
Gianni wants to portray all facets of his characters, as he believes that we are different people to different people: “For example, I was bullied a lot in school, but I learnt not to regard them as ‘just bullies’ when I saw them laughing with, and not at, their friends, or hugging their parents: I realised that deep down they were decent people to someone else, friendly to their friends, and devoted to their families.”
Unrequited, tempestuous at first, his romance is also marred by an atypical triangle with a ghostly presence that lurks in the shadows of both protagonists’ lives: “There is another central figure who is the reason behind the Dreamer’s reality shifts and the dark aura haunting the Millionaire, who isn’t rich on his own credit, but because he inherited his fortune from his orphaned best friend, self-made businessman with no family but the (future) Millionaire to leave his wealth too, when premature death strikes.”
Gianni continues: “The dark character can alter reality because he is a writer and illustrator – and there is a bit of myself in him too, although I tend to identify the most with the Dreamer. There are two versions of him in this world, one is the antagonist of the protagonist, so to speak, whom readers will love to hate, but he will take up a complex role in the sequel, where he will be likeable.”
He analyses how the characters fall in love with personality and how their physical appearance and emotional history come into the equation to affect it, and mould into a uniquely shaped piece of the puzzle into which only one other person(ality) fits perfectly.
Hence his characters steer clear from the clichés of romance fiction – no tall, dark and handsome brooding heroes or blonde beauties, which are conversely tipped to make an appearance in his forthcoming fantasy series ‘Emerald Kingdom’. Here, the protagonists are a beautiful golden-haired princess and her suitor, moulded upon Gianni’s parents, whom he describes as fully supportive of who he is and the dreams he follows.
The drafts of this series, or better said, saga, date back to his childhood when he imagined an Emerald Club, populated by magical and extraordinary creatures. “These stories are all interconnected, and already fleshed out in my mind; I just need to find the time to write them down, between my studies and part-time job.”
Gianni is in fact hoping to pursue an academic career in creative writing soon, while he works as a cameraman to film local football matches, which gives him the opportunity to learn how to narrate epic battles, such as the ones he is planning for his ‘Ivory Kingdom’, a fantasy novel based on chess, where he adds a red army to the standard black and white ones, for extra suspense in a love-war triangle.
He is not intentionally writing a roman à clef, but his work does contain positive messages sprinkled around so sparingly that you blink and you miss it. Yet, they don’t get lost on shrewd eyes, and his stories have been praised by the sternest critics, his friends and teachers at the College, who got an exciting sneaky peek into a world where everyone is a protagonist.