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What makes the main character interesting?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by fantastic, May 27, 2015.

  1. fantastic

    fantastic Minstrel

    What is the thing that makes you interested in a character?

    Would you always be interested in a character assuming he was very detailed and his actions were consistent with his personality?

    What is the thing that decides whether you are interested in him?

    The way he is, even if he appeared in a completely different story?

    The way story will change because of him?

    Or maybe the way you are presented the story through his perspective?

    What is the thing that makes a character interesting, especially in a fantasy, where accurate historical facts and real world portrayal are often not necessary?
  2. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    I prefer MCs who are nearer the Gary Stu/Mary Sue end of the spectrum, such as Kvothe in the Kingkiller Trilogy. It's satisfying to watch him constantly screw Ambrose over and master every skill he tries his hand at.
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Goal and motivation. Motivated characters are naturally more engaging, like 9 times out of 10. If a character is invested in what they're doing, chances are the reader will be invested.
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    This is tough. It's like what makes a character funny?

    Best thought I have right now is a three-dimensional character with understandable desires. Though, three dimensions may not be a requirement. Maybe a better one is a sympathetic character with understandable desires and relatable problems. I think that would be a good basis, but for me, it can all be undermined if the character does something out-of-character-stupid.

    Any way I'm interested to hear what others say.
  5. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hi Fantastic, great question (I wanted to say fantastic question but, you know :p). I never really understood what made me like certain characters above others when reading fiction, until I started learning more about story crafting. I received this advice: story is about character change. Period.

    With that in mind, what attracts me to main characters now is exactly that, how they change. See, they don't have to be perfect. The audience just has to be able to relate to them. This can be a myriad of things, right? Good characters--especially main characters--are ones that start out in a certain moral place at the beginning of the story and then end up in a different moral state at the end of the story. Everything in between is personal development, which is what the story is about. Focus on that, and you'll have another storytelling skill in your box.

    A few more things to think about:

    -the character's specific story goal (or desire line)
    -their relationship to the opponent
    -how that character relates to the plot, theme, and essence of your story
    fantastic likes this.
  6. j-max04

    j-max04 Acolyte

    I know it seems simple once you've realized it, but I find that if you've built a character around the actions you need them to do, then they will be much more realistic.
    What I love in a main character is for them to realise the fault in their ways and to fight adamantly to right their wrongs. It's something that seems simple but is easy to forget in the moment of writing.
    Ireth likes this.
  7. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    If at any moment my mind delves into character contemplation, where upon I stop reading and drift into a self-comparison scenario: admiration, projection, rejection, recreation of scene, or an induced dream-coma where I leave planet earth and become John/Jane Doe, even if for only a moment, then you have me, I have entered the atmosphere of your imagination.
  8. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Aren't those character types basically the author injecting a version of themselves into the narrative?
  9. SugoiMe

    SugoiMe Closed Account

    I second WooHooMan, Penpilot, and Chesterama. I like a motivated, multi-dimensional character who undergoes change throughout his/her journey.
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I agree with the change thing, but would add another: vulnerability.

    I'm not talking touchy-feely stuff. What draws me in is a sense that the main character is in over his head, or is otherwise imperiled, physically or emotionally. I did a quick mental scan over memorable characters, across all sorts of genres, and I find that's a common theme.

    Another is some sense of mystery. Not about the plot, but about the character himself. Lord Jim. Pierre (War and Peace). Even Sam Spade. There is often some sense of how is this guy going to handle this?

    Finally, there's usually some element of pet the dog--that is, the character does something that shows him to be sympathetic, often towards something small or weak or simple.

    Taken together, the tropes make me feel kindly toward the MC, worried for him, and interested to see how he will do.
  11. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    Possibly, but I see no problem with that unless you know the author personally and are already bored of his personality.
  12. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    I want a main character who is resourceful-- they might not have the ability to nuke armies with their mind, but they'll find some creative solution to avoid the army/ assassinate the leader/ etc.

    A main character should suffer angst, but not too much. Reading hundreds of pages of character's wallowing in self-pity is a drag.

    Motivation. They should really be working for something. We should understand what they're goal is and what they'll do to get there.

    Believable. A main character should be more than their crowning moment of awesome in a fight scene. They should have quirks, depth, everything a real person has.
  13. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    So true. Frankenstein is so shit for this reason.
  14. willsonjohn90

    willsonjohn90 Acolyte

    Characters can be made interesting by making them funny or strange. Showing him a genius or hunk , some unique and likable qualities.
  15. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    For me its being able to related one some level as well as having things happen and, to be frank, not everything going in their favor. If they always win and never suffer real, hurting loss or mistakes its just a story about how awesome they are. I know that I'm wrong in many cases but this is a kind of blanket term for that.
  16. A main character needs to be real in our minds. They need flaws, but not too many. They need admirable traits, but not too many. they need to suffer the most, have the most to lose. But not necessarily in the absolute sense. Let's go through each of these points in turn.

    First, consider the flaws and admirable traits. Two characters in epic fantasy spring to mind that will help illustrate this. Eragon and Samwise Gamgee. Eragon is the ultimate Uberman. He learns to read while riding a saddle and doing a gajillion other things. He gains power without working for it. He becomes skilled at the sword in a shorter amount of time than I had thought. He masters magic, and so on and so forth. He's the guy you want fighting on your side, but I hate reading him. Why? He's boring. He's too good. The man has no flaws. His one flaw is that he is too good of a person and tries to help, when he really shouldn't. (See e.g. the baby he turned into a shield from harm, Elva I think. He bungled that but he just wanted to help) He's dull. He also has so very little to lose. So what if Galbatorix wins. What will Eragon lose? I still don't really know.

    Now, let's turn to Samwise. He has no power, but dang is that guy loyal and a good friend. You want him to be on your side for one because you know that he will be there for you. Even if you fall because your burden is too heavy he'll pick you and carry you up the slopes of Mount Doom. If you betray him he'll save you from following Gollum into the fiery pit. But he's flawed. He's useless in a fight, and at the beginning a bit of a coward. He's also like every other hobbit: too used to a too soft life. He, in my opinion, is a main character and he has a lot to lose: his home, his friends, and his beloved Shire. He's compelling and we love him. He's interesting.

    But even a character who has so very little can still lose a lot. To measure that one must use the measuring rod of the widows mite. For those who may not be aware this comes from a parable told by Jesus. A widow cast in two mites (a very small sum) to the coffers of the temple as her tithe. Whereas, a rich man paid copious amounts of gold. Jesus said that the widow would be blessed more because she gave all that she had whereas the rich man "Cast in his abundance." Meaning that he had yet more to give. A main character needs to measured on whether they will lose all that they had or only lose their abundance. If it is all they have that makes their story interesting, but if the cost is so little that it is only a minor set back their story is boring.

    TL;DR version. Characters are interesting if they are a balance of flaws and admirable traits and if they stand to lose a lot of what they have, even if in it is actually very little.
  17. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    I would say it's how real he is to me. How does he react to certain situations? An example: he killed someone. What would be his response to that? His response to it would not only tell me whether he is believable or not but also what kind of a person he is. How does he feel about the situation? How does it effect him? Even more detail, does an event that happened in his past have anything to do with response to the situation? Because of that event in the past, does that make the situation effect him even more later on?

    I'm going to be a bit different here and say I don't think a character has to undergo some sort of change. I've seen many characters whom I've loved and I find to be very well written, and they don't go through any sort of change. I agree, motivation should be there. The character should always have a goal of some sort, otherwise, it will be boring, but I think this is something that can be done whether he "sees the error of his ways" or not.

    Characters need believability, emotion, and a reason for me to want to know more about his/her life.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2015
  18. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Their interaction with the world and how it changes them is a big part for making things interesting; also how certain aspects of their character remain the same, such as certain values or philosophies.

    The main character of my fantasy story starts out as a 12 year old boy without a father figure (father died several years prior) for most his life who experiences the world outside of his little village (hence mom is out of the picture as well) as he grows up, including politics, warfare, the existence of the supernatural, making lifelong friends and seeing them go through their own trials, etc. He sees the horror of the battlefield, corpses littering the ground, soldiers wounded, crippled or dying in excruciating pain and other life changing events.

    The reader gets to experience his growing up and how his naive beliefs about the world change, how he matures into an adult and other aspects of his character. He also starts to keep a journal when he first experiences life in the royal court as an observer. This will supplement the main story as an extra page or two at the end of the episode if applicable.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2015

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