Thursday, March 3, 2011

Boring Main Characters: The Problem

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fairly active member of the site, a writing website for teens run by HarperCollins. The site has around 40,000 projects and hundreds more added every week. I have two stories up, one of which has reached top five and been reviewed by a HarperCollins editor, the other is around rank 100 right now.
One thing that I’ve done a lot of on inkpop is critique other people’s stories. I’ve read and commented on at least 400 projects in my inkpop career, so I have a fairly good grasp of the problems that plague teen’s writing. On the blog I will address these problems in mini-series coming each Thursday. Something I’ve noticed that is a major problem on inkpop is that Main Characters (MC) tend to be boring, all the same. For this reason, I’m writing a six part series on what to do to make your MC unique.

The Problem

The vast majority of you have heard of Twilight. A lot of you have probably read it. I’m personally not a fan, but I read the first two and a half books simply to see what all the fuss was about. Half way through the third book I got too bored, so I stopped.
Whether you hate the books or if you’re one that really enjoys them, you have to admit that Bella is a pretty ordinary person. She, by her own admission, is boring. We’re told that she has hobbies, but we never see her doing anything interesting. She’s not particularly good, or bad, at anything in school. Her emotions are all pretty basic, and her responses are quite predictable.
You might say that Bella is an ordinary teenager. I’d say that she’s not. What’s my reason for saying this? There is no such thing as an ordinary teenager.
Think about yourself. Think about anyone you know. Everyone is unique. Everyone is interesting in some way. Everyone has a favourite book, a specific personality, a different way of viewing the world.
Bella doesn’t. And, unfortunately, many of the MCs I’ve read about on inkpop don’t either. I once read ten stories in a row that all had a MC who could be exactly the same person. These are the characters who walk to school, snooze in the back row, and go back home. They wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. Maybe they’re a bit snarky or they’re shy, they could be popular or not, but somehow the writer has only told us that they’re different, they never actually showed us what makes the MC interesting.
Good stories aren’t written about boring people. Editors right now are desperate for new novels with ‘fresh’ voices. They want unique MCs, perhaps more than anything else. A ‘Mary Sue’ won’t get you anywhere.
So, what are you going to do? Next Thursday I’ll have another post on what not to do.


  1. Ugh Twilight.
    I agree with you completely on the boring character kind of thing. Characters and voices are what breaks a story for me. It's the thing that makes me take 2 weeks to return a swap because I don't want to read the book.

  2. Yeah, when I read the books the first time, I didn't have much writing experience, so Bella was an okay character, but now that I realize just all the things wrong with her, just... ugh *shivers*