Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boring Main Characters: What NOT to do

Last week I touched on the problem of Boring Main Characters in YA literature. This week I’m going to give some advice about what not to do.
You might have looked over your manuscript and decided that your MC isn’t as interesting as you want them to be. They’re flat, and, (you have to admit) just a bit boring. What’s the first thing you do?
For a lot of authors, their first response is to make their character do a lot of interesting stuff. Has anyone else noticed the rise of stories written from the perspective of murderers, vampires, assassins or some strange creature? By making their character do something interesting, perhaps someone scary or even a villain, the author hopes that that will make the character be an interesting person.
Sorry folks. It doesn’t work that way. Character is much more than just a person’s actions. Consider this quote from the movie Get Smart. “They may be bad guys, but that is what they do, not who they are. Until we view them as real people, with real likes and dislikes, we’ll never be able to defeat them.” I’m pretty sure those aren’t the exact words, but you get the gist. A person’s job is not what makes them a real character. You need a lot more. You need a ‘voice’.
When people realize that they need a voice, that they can’t just tell their story from some flat, literary perspective, a lot of them tend to go overboard. The voice completely overwhelms the story. This voice is often one sided, most often snarky and rude. While this may work in some stories, the narrator is still ‘flat’.
I’m not trying to say that you can’t make your MC an assassin with a snarky ‘voice’. That’s perfectly alright in some instances. However, you can’t just do that and sit back and expect a perfectly interesting well-rounded character to come cartwheeling out onto the page. There’s more to characters than giving them an interesting vocation and a kick-ass attitude.
What more? Next week I’ll talk about some MCs that are anything but boring, and we’ll see what makes them that way.

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