What Did You Learn?

March 16, 2011

General Writing: Main Character

Filed under: Character, General Writing — Tags: — ax20 @ 6:54 pm

In your book, especially those written in first person, the main character cannot rely on a colorful supporting cast in order to hold the audience’s attention. To capture the readers’ interest and imagination, they must be unique and interesting in their own right. (Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t have quirky friends and acquaintances.)

Some Examples:

  • Katniss in the Hunger Games. She’s strong and able, supports her mother and sister, sacrifices herself for her little sister, mourns for the loss of her father, and ultimately inspires and leads a rebellion. That’s forgetting her inability to choose between two men she cares deeply about.
  • Harry Potter. His parents are killed while trying to protect him, he is famous for being the only person to survive the killing curse, he has some abilities given to him by the wizard who tried to kill him, he is stubborn and determined and goodhearted.
  • Thomas in The Maze Runner. He is the last boy to arrive in the mysterious glades, he has no memory of his past but is accused of being in collaboration with the people who have put the boys in the maze, he can communicate with his mind to the only girl to ever arrive. He is brave and daring and is always willing to fight, for himself and others.
  • Lyra from the Golden Compass. Lyra has been raised basically as an orphan by scholars who do not know how to handle her, she is wild from a lack of education, her parents are both directly involved in the politics and mis-dealings of the land. She ends up being the only one who can read the compass and has a big destiny as laid out in a prophecy. She is innovative and quick-witted and a risk-taker.

These are only a few examples, but notice that each of the characters has a complex backstory and distinctive character traits that impact their behavior. Not everything is under their control, many things they have done nothing to cause. But those events shape them and their understanding of the world. All of these characters are also active. They do not simply allow things to happen to them while they remain passive (which is to say, even when they are thrust in a bad situation, they step up and fight).

Make sure your main character has a fully imagined personality and has a deep enough back story (so that the readers can discover things about the character over time). One of the places where a book tends to fail is when their main character is bland or unrelate-able.


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