Monday, April 4, 2011

Boring Main Characters: How to Write Good Characters

The past five entries have been a lot of fun to write, talking about what makes some MCs boring and how some others are so fascinating. I hope I’ve given some helpful advice. By now you should have figured out a lot more about your MC. It’s all in your head, just ready to spill out into the novel. Today I want to talk a little about how to actually write about your MCs.

I’ll admit, this is certainly the hardest part. The characters in WANDER still bug me sometimes because, no matter how much I work in my plotting documents, they just refuse to act properly in my novel. Maybe you have the same thing. In your head your characters are real, fascinating people, but when others read your work they say your characters are dull and boring. What in the world are you going to do?

This may sound sneaky, perhaps even bad for your novel, but you have to let your characters express themselves. That doesn’t mean letting your characters do whatever. It just means giving them the proper scenes to let them be who you want them to be. This is especially important during opening scenes when you want the reader to learn about your character without dousing them in backstory and useless description.
Think of the openings of your favourite books. The Hobbit opens with Bilbo smoking on his front porch, giving us an excellent look at his ordinary, lazy life. The Hunger Games starts with Katniss hunting in the woods. Paranormalcy starts with Evie on a mission to tag a vampire. Skybreaker (by Kenneth Oppel) starts with the MC on a normal voyage turned crazy. All of these scenes are perfect for giving us a sense of who the character is.

This rule doesn’t just apply to openings. The rest of the novel should also be full of opportunities to showcase your characters’ personalities. In WANDER, the MC, Wander, is used to murder and torture and all sorts of awful things like that. Those things don’t affect her. But, for a reason that you learn later, she has nasty associations with rape. So, in the middle of the story I wrote a scene where Ida nearly gets raped, but Wander saves her. The plot would have been the same if Ida had been mugged, but Wander’s reaction would have been much different.

After all, what is a novel? It is a story about characters. The characters have to work to fit the plot, and the plot has to fit the characters. Adding a scene or changing one slightly to allow your characters to show their personalities will only improve your story. You don’t need to get bogged down in lengthy character descriptions, nor do you need to forget about character in order to keep the story moving. Just let the characters suit the plot, and make the plot fit the characters. 

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