Sunday, February 10, 2008

Love what you hate about your Main Character…

...and we will love him even more. As a writer, I think I would love to create that character who is so much better than I ever was as a kid. You know, the kid who always knows the right thing to do—and does it. He’s confident and clever, never says the wrong thing or hurts anyone’s feelings. Free from prejudice or self-righteous indignation. Never afraid, never stupid...

BORING!!!! No kid can relate to that…or live up to that. The thing that really makes a character work is more than just some quirk, like plucking his eyebrows bald in a nervous fit every time he has an algebra exam, or, to quote a recent top 25 list, chews his lip until he tastes blood. No, let him be FLAWED in some real way. I have to remind myself of that, even now as I think of the characters I’ve already written and already love. It doesn’t have to be a flaw of Shakespearean magnitude, (You can go to bed now, MacBeth…) but somewhere in your book, he should make the reader just a little uncomfortable, squirm in his seat just a bit while trying to defend your dear MC. Of course, this is where you can draw on personal experience, right? The list of bonehead moves in my childhood could just about match the collected works of our dear old master of tragedy, Mr. Bill. But what inside me led to those actions? What in my character made me say such a stupid remark or do such an asinine thing?

Think about the characters you really love—even Harry Potter has his faults. A deeply good heart, noble even, but there’s plenty of self-doubt which is sometimes costly; a nice helping of rashness, though understandably so; even some serious prejudice of his own, though not completely unfounded or even deep-seated.

So what “issues” does your MC have? What are those little things that make you want to kick his butt and send him to his room without supper? If you don’t have any, maybe you should.


  1. Mine's a smart-ass who doesn't know when to shut up-- especially when I'm trying to sleep. She's kinda new, so that's all I've got on her so far.

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to work on a few of her traits before I go much farther.

  2. Great post--I posted something similar when I was talking about being willing to take risks to make a character (and a MS) 'pop off the page'.

    I struggle with characters, and have found that more and more I need to let them go crazy on the page, let their persoanlity come out and stop worrying about them being 'good' or 'always likeable.' We're all flawed, so we may as well embrace it rather than trying to hide it.

  3. I've not really had to develop characters before since I've been writing short stories but now that I'm doing my mystery state series with my core group of kids, I have to develop them as the will be ever present in each of the stories and they definitely can't be cardboard cutouts of anything. I'm trying to develop the four kids who will be "visiting" each state via the geography game I created so that they do have their own personalities. I've already got the kid sister character semi-developed - she's your basic whiny, cries at the drop of a hat, bossy, mean (I mean good) girl - lol - I'm hoping to post my character sketches on my blog dedicated to the state stories (will probably do one this week - see blog for more details)

    I have to agree it's hard to not want to make your characters "perfect" and to make them as real as possible. I hope I get my characters developed enough that kids will still want to read the stories - see you all in the postings - E :)

  4. Good post -- and something I hadn't thought about in this way. One of my MCs get embarrassed really easily, esp when she's trying to impress a boy....

  5. The mc of my wip kills someone and she can't decide if it was on purpose or an accident. Does that count?

    Urgh. I have the worst time with this--coming up with quirks, ok, but creating those situations where your mc makes people squirm...that's always effective and it's soooo hard for me. Thanks for posting this!


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