• Charlie King

Making your main character the most interesting character in your book.

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

It's a given that the main character of your book will be central to the story and its development but that doesn't automatically make them an interesting character.

Personally, I have found it to personalise my main character in comparison to support characters; it is particularly hard if you are writing your book in first person without being guilty of too much exposition.

Your main character might be cool or heroic which you may think makes them interesting but if they never seem to be affected by any hardship or always seem to do the most selfless, righteous thing in every situation then they lose some interest. Likewise if they are an anti-hero, they can't just not 'do it by the book' every single time and not care and not look at explosions. A character needs to have flaws and if the flaws are covered up by bravado then that is fair enough. If the flaws are their main traits, they'll need some redeeming factors too. Your main character may change how they act in front of different characters so you have to take that into consideration too.

The point is that your main character has to have a certain manner, certain philosophies that they adhere to. There has to be a sense of the reader thinking they can guess what the main character might do. This can be used to your advantage for plot events to take on extra significance to change the character's attitude and outlook, for the main character to do something unexpected.

It is easier to make your supporting characters interesting because they won't appear quite as much in the book as your main character. With these characters, each interaction with the main character or any action they take can give the readers a snapshot of their personality so it is easier to categorise them as cool, heroic, cowardly, sleazy etc and if that changes as the book goes on, it will be easier to compare the differences. You can probably get away with a bit more exposition for supporting characters over the main character.

The readers are constantly with your main character though so you need to try and keep adding little snippets of their personality out over time. If your character's personality is changing due to the events of the plot, you will need to slowly steer the character in that direction; for supporting characters, they can return after a month and have a new outlook just like that.

Another important part of character development is making sure the plot doesn't simply happen around them. Characters can sometimes appear to simply be a framing device where their story is being told but all they seemed to be doing is experiencing it all (like the readers) rather than participating in and advancing the story.

Another mistake is to have the supporting characters tell the main character what their personality is; this isn't bad in of itself but if the main character's words and actions doesn't back this up to the reader then once again, the character becomes less interesting.

Your supporting characters might simply seem more interesting because on the face of it, they are. If your main character is a shy weakling who has never used a weapon but their friend rides motorbikes through burning buildings and beats up all the bad dudes, that's something you just can't win at, not from face value anyway. It is easy for a character to stay the way they are if it works for them and the plot by the main character needs a character arc as well as a story arc so that even if they aren't the most exciting character, they are still the most interesting.

Going through adversity doesn't automatically make your character strong and complex either. If they keep getting knocked down and never learn something each time it happens, it doesn't automatically make them hardened to pain and grief just because it keeps happening. If painful events are supposed to be character-building or even if it is suppose to drive the character to breaking point, make sure that shows in the character's personality, once again, over time.

I worried that in all my books so far, the supporting characters get to put across much more of their personality in comparison to the main character. The main character is likely to have the most situations happen to them so, in a sense, their reaction to an event might simply be the most basic human reaction you could imagine, that could be applied to any character at that point in the situation. They don't get a chance to be in too many normal situations where they are free to speak and act as they want as the action is usually happening to them.

The best piece of advice I can give is to say that you can't shove a personality down the reader's throat through repetition of speech or action and expect the character to be memorable. A good character should be presented to the reader through background information, interactions with people and reactions to events over the entirety of the book to paint a full picture of the character's personality from start to finish along with any changes along the way.

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