Saturday, July 21, 2012

Creating Your Main Character

The main character in your novel is arguably the most important part of your story. If the plot is the brains, the main character is the heart. Of course, a page-turning plot is essential, but, even with a gripping story, your readers will only be interested in what happens next if they care about your hero or heroine at the heart of the story. That is what creating your main character is all about: MAKING THE READER CARE. Create a main character that the reader has no strong feelings about, and the page turning will stop. Write a protagonist that readers know and love, and they won't be able to put your book down, and that’s your goal.

In Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic mystery, Rebecca, “The Girl,” the unnamed narrator, is one of the most beloved main characters in fiction. Why? Her feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, helplessness, awkwardness, and timidity are feelings everyone has experienced at some time. But it is also her ultimate bravery, unconditional love, and loyalty to her husband that makes her memorable. We care about her, because we can relate to her.

Readers don't necessarily have to like all of your characters, but they have to care about what happens to your main character. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

Have I created a clear visual image of my main character? Just remember, you don’t want a police report; delicately weave physical details into the story where they legitimately belong. Too many details are as fatal as too few.

Did I give my main character senses to help the reader see the world from his point of view?

Does my main character smell, hear, feel, taste, and see the environment around him?

Does my main character have universal, human qualities? Does she laugh or cry? Does my main character experience frustration, disappointment, joy, anger, shame, guilt, ambivalence? Will readers be able to relate to these reactions?

Conversely, is my main character an individual? Does he have quirks, idiosyncrasies; funny, little habits that we all possess?

Is my heroine admirable, spirited? Does she have strong convictions, ethics and beliefs? Will she take a stand in conflict?

Does my main character behave logically, i.e., does he have common sense, worthy goals readers can relate to?

Is my protagonist a stereotype? Avoid clich├ęs. Not all heroines have perfect hair, alabaster complexions, perky breasts, and happy dispositions. Not all heroes have perfect pecs, dazzling eyes, and Robert Pattinson’s hair!

Is my main character dynamic? Does she change in some way from who she was at the beginning of the novel? A main character should not be static, and watching her change is part of the fun!

Is my main character flawed? Remember, nobody’s perfect. A perfect main character is boring, not to mention unrealistic; in other words, a turn-off. Readers can quickly grow uninterested, not to mention resentful, toward a flawless main character.

In The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen is a complex main character. She is brave, loyal and likeable, but at the same time, displays a fierce competiveness, and can be cold, and calculating. Physically, Katniss is described as having straight black hair, olive skin and grey eyes, but Ms. Collins does this cleverly, by having Katniss, the narrator, describe her friend, Gale, with these characteristics, but adding that he could be her brother, thereby describing herself as well.

Writing a strong main character is challenging, but rewarding and fun! Keep him focused, dynamic, and realistic.

If you care about your main character, others will too!

What is your main character like?

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