Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Real Character

Main characters (MC) he or she is the one we're supposed to love, loathe, relate to. How can writers construct an MC that readers become invested in?

The Screaming Guppy is doing all of us a wonderful favor by sharing experiences from Donald Maass' 'The Fire in Fiction' workshop, and has a great post up about MCs.

In my own writing, the key to a great MC is identification. In some way the MC has to develop an intimate relationship with the reader. This connection can only be maintained if the MC is accessible. Translation = he or she cannot be perfect or larger than life.

Let's revisit Buffy once more, because Buffy teaches such lessons so well.

Buffy is the Chosen One. If you're the Chosen One it might seem like blessings from the Power That Be rain down without ceasing, making life full of perfect rainbows and never-ending bliss...right?
Nope. Buffy may be the Chosen One but, to steal a line from another great MC, Spiderman, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

Buffy makes some very poor choices. She runs away from home. She lies to her friends. She sleeps with an abusive vampire (okay, Spike fans, I'm with you, I know he reforms later...but still initially, not a good choice for our Buffy). To quote Clem (one of my favorite supporting characters from BVS...more coming tomorrow on SCs) on Buffy's flaws: 'She's a nice girl. But hey...issues.'

Heroes and heroines that draw readers in are inherently flawed. Even wielding their exceptional super powers, they're burdened to desire and doubt, struggling between self-interest and the greater good.

The journey through a book is about secrecy and revelation; readers need to be compelled forward, struggling with the MC to make progress, to discover. If the MC is perfect from page one, what challenges could possibly lay ahead. Without flaws dogging our MCs steps, the plot lies limp on the page, failing to convey the tenuous condition that is life, unable to capture that essence of human experience that makes us turn the page...the breathless hope that things will get better, against all odds, despite the lack of perfection we humans embody every day.


  1. My MC is extremely flawed. I mean, I don't think I'd like him a whole lot in reality, which is kind of the appeal to me. I can't stand it when MCs are perfect and act in completely unrealistic ways.

    And I love the Buffy connection : )

  2. What a gorgeous picture to end your post! I find it hard to walk the line between having them have flaws and still be liked. Great post!

  3. Great post and thanks for the linkage! :)

  4. I think what makes us relate to characters is that even with faults, sometimes hideous ones, they can still do good things. That gives everyone hope for themselves and the world.
    And, oh, yeah, yay for all things Buffy. ;)