Making characters relatable to the reader is key to a story’s success. It’s the protagonist who’ll take action and incite sympathy in readers, propel the story forwards, and resolve the plot. Main Characters (MCs) have that magical ability to make readers cry, laugh, feel frustrated, or learn a moral lesson. Here’s a few other things a Main Character influences.
Protagonists Determine the Audience.
♥ A good story isn’t marketed to the masses, just one audience. Characteristics such as age, gender, moral compass, and physical appearance can determine what audience the book will be marketed to. This is especially true with the protagonist, so make them a reflection of the audience. Remember people of similar interests will usually read books about characters who share those interests.
♥ An MC’s history and personality influences their decisions, which thereby influences the plot.
♥ How your MC thinks will alter the readers’ perspective of the story: when the MC learns/sees/hears something, the reader learns it. Think of the main character as a reader’s eye into the fictional world.
Now that you know this, download my Extremely Detailed Character Template. (This excel spreadsheet is meant for Major Characters. The Ultimate No Effort Character Checklist is a less detailed version, designed for secondary characters or main characters in short stories). Depending on your plot and writing technique you won’t fill everything, but it’s a useful tool for shaping the main character. Remember that an MC’s personality traits and immediate goals need to coincide with the theme and plot of the novel. Obviously deciding what kind of main character you’re going to have can be difficult, so account for your genre, theme, and audience.
In fantasy and adventure oriented fiction main characters are typically strong-willed, talented, and balance a fine line between recklessness and self-discipline or self-reliance. Think of main characters favored by your targeted audience. Do they appreciate the Winchesters and Charlie Bradbury from Supernatural, or Marvel‘s Captain America or Iron Man, or the anti-hero figure Loki? What about Lyra Belacqua in The Golden Compass, Hermione from the Harry Potter series, the Halliwell sisters of Charmed, or Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time? I named these main characters because they all appealed to different audiences and came in different forms of media.
Realistic fiction seems to inhabit more human characters who have a will of slightly lesser strength or a more vulnerable confidence. These characters seem to make mistakes more easily, however these mistakes are solved equally as fast.
Regardless of genre and theme, your MC needs to be real, exhibiting some traits found “normal.” Remember to design a main character your readers can identify with and find entertaining. Can’t let go of some off-color traits? Give them to the sarcastic, witty, and entertaining supporting character so they can still be present in your scenes. Your main character shouldn’t be the Disney princess of perfection, that would alienate her/him from the audience. Real people are complicated and driven by messy emotions or misguided desires. Sometimes they’ll even lie to themselves or others about their true motivations. Tone your character’s thoughts with doubts and conflictions to make the character more realistic. The most important thing to reflect in your writing is character development. People change over time through the interactions they have with others and circumstances they surround themselves with. Main characters will always need help and support from others to reach their goals.
Your main character has to be entertaining, someone a reader will root for and keep an interest in. If the reader loses interest in the MC they lose interest in the entire book. Beta readers can help you by telling you if they like the main character and agree with their actions.
The Main Character is another element of the story, not vice versa. Writers have to make sure their character fits with the story, even if they question the status quo. MCs add to the reader’s experience through triumphs and turmoil. That’s why it’s important to treat your characters like a story tool, rather than a close friend or a way to live vicariously through them as characters. Look out for these situations:
♠ Nothing horrible seems to happen to the MC, just all their companions.
♦ It seems like your story revolves around making your MC happy/suffer, rather than furthering the plot.
♠ The MC has become too perfect to be entertaining, or hasn’t changed in the course of the story.
If any of these problems have happened, you need to revise your character. To avoid this I create my characters after the plot line and sub plots, that way I can map out character development in accordance to the plot line and critical events.