Friday, March 18, 2011

Boring Main Characters: A Few Examples of Cool Characters

ng Over the past two weeks we’ve considered the problem of boring MCs, and what won’t fix the problem. This week we’ll take a look at a couple books that have really interesting MCs and start to figure out what makes them so fascinating.
Since I started out this series by bad-mouthing Twilight, it’s only fair to use another Paranormal book as a good example. In this case, let’s take a look at Evie, the MC in Kirsten White’s debut novel Paranormalcy. Evie has an unique job at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s got a funny ‘voice’, and she’s got a well-developed character. She has a favourite TV show. A favourite colour (pink). A best friend. She likes to paint her walls. She has a certain taste in clothes. All these little things come together to make her a really realistic character. (annoying, perhaps, but what real person isn't annoying sometime?)

 Now let’s consider Katniss, heroine in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, which is perhaps my favourite YA book. Katniss has an interesting role in the story and a recognizable voice, she has a real personality even before she gets thrown into the Games. She likes hunting. Her father is dead. She and Gale have an interesting relationship. She wants to protect her little sister. She resents her mother. She hisses at her sister’s cat. Relationships play a dominant role in the story and from the very start of the book we already know what Katniss thinks about those close to her.

One of my favourite examples is a Fantasy published in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Despite the older style of writing and the fact that this book is written in third person (rather than first like my other two examples) Bilbo’s character comes out clearly from the beginning. He completely forgets about Gandal’s promised visit, he hospitably lets the Dwarves come in to tea, he likes fireworks, and when he gets sent off on an adventure his biggest worry is that he forgot a pocket handkerchief. At Bilbo resembles a stuffy English gentleman but as the story progresses he becomes more of an adventurer; this change is part of what makes the story so interesting.

All of these stories have strong MCs and what makes them so good is that they’re not ‘flat’. They have numerous aspects to their personalities and their relationships to other characters are well defined. Next week we’ll look at how you can use small details to build up your characters.


  1. Look, you've given examples of good MCs and bad ones... but I don’t agree that slapping a bunch of details on a character transforms her from Mary Sue to an interesting charrie. There is more to an interesting, non-Sue character than just the minute details.

  2. For sure! I think details have a lot to do with making a character realistic, but you're perfectly right when you say there's a lot more. That's why, in my next three posts I'll be concentrating on relationships with other characters and reactions to various events, as well as the little details.

  3. I think that a good example of a dull main character is Tally Youngblood in Uglies.
    Her relationships with others are inconsistent and random, we don't get much of her emotions and when we do they don't match up with circumstances, there is never any instance where you could so, "Oh, that's something that Tally would do!" because we don't know what she would do.