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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing 101 Part 2- Who is the Main character?

Working in a character driven model like mine, a writer quickly has to answer one question before putting fingers to keyboard. Who is the main character?

The main character is the primary protagonist in a story. They’re the first name we see in a synopsis on the back of the book. They are the person the reader is interested in reading about in the story.

The main character is who the story is about. They are the person who all the action in the story revolves around. They are the person who the reader follows on their quest to achieve their goal.

The main character is the one who faces all the challenges in the story. As the main character overcomes each of these obstacles, the story moves forward building to the climax and concluding with the accomplishment of their goal or the failure to achieve that goal.

The main character can be a hero, or they can be a villain. The focus of the story are the steps they take to achieve their goals and overcome the obstacles in their way.

I usually establish who the main character is in the first chapter of a novel. I feel the faster the reader is introduced to the main character, they’ll be drawn into the story.

Sometimes in a story like Isis I’ll delay introducing the main character until the second chapter so I can introduce supporting characters or establish the storyline, but most of these plot points will revolve around the main character. Usually these supporting characters will discuss the main character or mention them in their conversations or plans.

In character-driven fiction like revolving first-person and first-person perspective, the main character has to stand out above all the other characters. They have to have a strong “voice” which speaks to the reader. A main character’s words come alive on the page. They reveal their personality, their emotions and their heart.

Visually, I feel a main character has to be distinct, in appearance, and personality in a description. They have to stand out in a crowd. Be unforgettable. Readers have to imagine them like real people. They have to come alive to grab the reader’s interest.

A main character is a leader. They take charge. They inspire supporting characters like love interests to join them and best friends to help them in their quest. They motivate antagonists to keep throwing obstacles in their way. They find a way to beat the odds no one else can. In their quest, they compel the reader to keep following them on their journey as they make their way to the conclusion of the story.

A main character is always Active. Main characters do not sit passively by while the supporting characters do all the work. No, a main character LEADS the supporting characters and the antagonist through the story up to the climax and the conclusion. They are the strongest of all the characters pushing and persevering to achieve their goals. Supporting characters can quit, but the main character NEVER gives up.

A main character ALWAYS SHOWS and NEVER TELLS. We see a main character going to achieve their goals. SHOWING IS ACTIVE and STRONG. Telling is PASSIVE and WEAK. Main characters are always strong.

A Main character is established through their actions. Characters are mostly what they DO, not what they say. Action defines a character. A main character is the character who the supporting characters look up to, and the one the antagonist despises.

Main characters are bold and dynamic. They grab a reader’s interest. They hold their attention. They carry the story from beginning to end.

I usually establish the main character when I’m brainstorming. Before I put fingers to keyboard I imagine who the main character is first in the planning stages. Back in the day I used to draw pictures of the main character so I could visualize what they looked like so I could have an idea of who I was describing in those paragraphs. Sometimes I’ll go through catalogs to see what kinds of clothes they wear.

Once I get the main character established, I start focusing on answering the next of the three big questions I have to answer before writing a story: What do they want?

I’ll show readers how to answer that question in the next blog. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice, Shawn. You're embellishing what McKee wrote in his wonderful Story and Marshall in The Marshall Plan for Writing Novels.

    It's a great brushup and reminder for me. Every writer should constantly go over the finer points of writing.

    Thank you and I'll be looking forward to your carrying this on.