Help! My main character has no character

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Post Reply
User avatar
ElsieTanner
Posts: 4
Joined: February 13th, 2012, 9:37 am
Location: London, England
Contact:

Help! My main character has no character

Post by ElsieTanner » February 13th, 2012, 11:18 am

Hey Bransforummers - I'd really appreciate your thoughts on the following problem I'm having with my (first) M/S:

My MS is young adult fiction with a time travel theme. My main character is a 16 year old girl living in contemporary times. She has two sidekicks (same age as her): a boy also from 'now' and a girl from the era my MC travels back to.

The problem is this: the two sidekicks leap off the page for me, I can see them and hear them (er…voices in my head!). The MC - nothing, nada. Can't hear her, can't see her. On the page she's dull, dull, dull.

The obvious answer (I think) is to bin her as the MC and go with one of the sidekicks as the MC but for various reasons I want the MC to be a contemporary character and a girl.

What to do? Struggle on and 'force' a character into place or accept that this MC isn't working for me and rewrite?

User avatar
dios4vida
Posts: 1119
Joined: February 22nd, 2010, 4:08 pm
Location: Tucson, Arizona, USA
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by dios4vida » February 13th, 2012, 11:43 am

First of all, take a breath. It will be okay. Have a cookie and relax - that way you can look at this with a clear, cool head. Rash decisions are terrible, especially in manuscripts.

Why did you choose this character to be your protagonist? What was it about her that captured your attention and made you put her front-and-center? If you know the answer to that, great. Latch onto it and expand on it, then pour all of that into her.

No answer? Don't fret, we've all done it. Putting the wrong person as the main character has happened to just about everyone, but the good thing is that all hope is not lost! (Not even by a long shot!)

There are a few things you can do, short of scrapping the character:

-Take out a piece of paper, or open a new document on your computer. Relax. Now, let this character introduce herself to you. What will she say? Will she come right out and tell you her history, or is she secretive and avoiding any real details about herself? Run with it. Just write - don't edit, don't try to think of the "right answer" or something clever, just write what feels natural for this character. Let her tell you what she wants you to know. Let her explain the events of the opening chapter or two to you, from her perspective. Dive into her thoughts and dredge up every emotion and reaction to your plotline and other characters. If something shows up on the page that you didn't expect, that's okay. Actually, it's great. That's the point of this exercise - to get into the character's head, listen to the way they talk and they things they say (or don't say) and get to know them more intimately. You'll find that writing this girl will be much easier, and she'll come to life.

-Take a look at the journey you're sending this character on. What does she need to do? What obstacles does she have to overcome, both in the world around her and within herself? Now craft her so that this journey will test her to her limits, or beyond. Does she fall in love? Then give her a history that breaks her heart and makes it hard for her to trust. Does she have to step up into a leadership role and take huge risks? Make her gun-shy and afraid to make decisions that could hurt. Make her so that she has to face her greatest fears and deepest, darkest secrets in order to succeed. Craft her backstory to make this story hell for her. This way you'll have to test her at every turn and you'll reveal a lot about her and humanity in general, and you'll evoke emotions in the readers that will help bring her to life.

You want your main character to be the person who grows/changes/is challenged the most through the events of your story. If this girl doesn't fit that bill, then try to make her that way.

If you do these things and she's still not working, then I'd finally step back and assess whether she's really right for the main character position. It might be that she's more suited for a sidekick job. But either way, don't do anything without knowing (or believing) why you're doing it and why it's the right thing for the story.

Good luck!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

Gypson
Posts: 49
Joined: August 29th, 2011, 7:14 pm
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by Gypson » February 13th, 2012, 3:49 pm

Excellent advice, dios4vida! Since you already said what I was planning to share, I'll avoid rehashing the same advice. =P

ElsieTanner, I have made the same mistakes several times. You are not alone! From my personal experience, those dull main characters ended up on the cutting room floor when I commenced a new draft.

Here's one example: in 2008, I wrote a monster of a draft (in both size and need of editing). About forty of the characters involved (most of whom were background, one of whom was important) were extremely dull, and none of my attempts to liven them up could make me care. I ended up axing all forty characters and consolidated ALL of their roles to ONE character. Layered and conflicted, she is now one of my very favorites.

Don't be afraid to axe a dull character. Perhaps her role can be usurped by a background character who intrigues you. Good luck.

User avatar
Cookie
Posts: 540
Joined: September 20th, 2010, 11:18 am
Location: Berkshires
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by Cookie » February 14th, 2012, 12:19 am

It took me a long time to figure out my MC. Well, I had his character figured out after the major events in the book, but I had no idea how he was going to be prior to them. Sometimes, it takes a while for a character to come to you. Like Brenda said, I would suggest doing some character building exercises.

Aimée
Posts: 296
Joined: December 9th, 2009, 1:26 pm
Location: Michigan
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by Aimée » February 14th, 2012, 12:29 am

I had a similar situation as this. I tried every possible angle to try to keep the MC in the story: different POV, different MC with that character still around, even deleting the character all together. Then I finally figured out what the problem was, after about five drafts that got to about 20 pages before I realized it wasn't going to work. The problem was not with the character. It was with the story. I wasn't forcing the character to act in a certain way, I was forcing the plot to go in a direction I thought was genius but was in fact not working because the MC didn't fit with it. When I discovered that I had to let the characters think for themselves rather than let my logical narrative path work ahead of my intuition, then the story started to take shape, and so did the character. I would suggest looking at your plot to see if each step the plot takes fits with the MC's personality and goals. Make sure the character is staying true to her character. :)

User avatar
Sanderling
Posts: 187
Joined: July 3rd, 2011, 4:47 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by Sanderling » February 14th, 2012, 12:41 am

Your main character should always be the one who goes through the greatest changes as the story progresses, or to whom the events are all happening. So in your trio of characters, who is it who's most affected by the plot points of the story? Who's got the greatest story arc? If it is indeed one of the "sidekicks", then yes, you should change who is your MC. But if it's the girl you've currently got as the MC, she should stay there.

The problem of personality deficit is not a serious one, IMHO. It may be a bit of a pain in the butt if you have to do much work to fix it, but it's not difficult. But before you go to all that trouble, you should first ask if what you've written just happens to be the character's personality. I don't know what POV your story is written in, but if it's first-person, that can often be really hard to get a good picture of the protagonist/narrator in your head. Dios' suggestions of doing a mini "interview" or "get-to-know-you" session with your MC can often help.

Remember that there are a lot of different people with a lot of different personalities out there, and not everyone is funny/snarky/witty/bitchy/etc. There are some stoic/quiet/serious/even-keeled/etc people out there, too. Sure, they don't have the same tendency to leap off the page and stick in our memories, but that doesn't mean they're not valid, too. In fact, if I'm completely honest I get a bit tired of seeing the sarcastic protagonists all the time. Before doing anything to change your MC, figure out if maybe they just happen to be the quiet, serious sort, and it's just their apparent lack of snark that makes them seem characterless.

If this happens to be the case, play up her seriousness in conversations with the others - perhaps she's the voice of reason when they start having wild ideas, or the one that keeps them on track when they're pursuing the plot. A lot of personality can be brought out just by adjusting the dialogue a bit.
My blog / Twitter
.
"Because if you have at least a modicum of talent and if you live by these six rules, you will make it."
--Robert J. Sawyer, speaking here of Heinlein's Rules.

User avatar
ElsieTanner
Posts: 4
Joined: February 13th, 2012, 9:37 am
Location: London, England
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by ElsieTanner » April 19th, 2012, 10:41 am

Thanks guys - all really helpful stuff (especially the bit about cookies!)

Glenn80
Posts: 1
Joined: April 26th, 2012, 11:10 am
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by Glenn80 » April 26th, 2012, 11:15 am

That must be a real problem when a situation like this appears while you writing something new. That actually happened to me several times, but somehow I managed to fix it myself. Thank you for your advices a lot, they are absolutely priceless!

kategrin611

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by kategrin611 » July 5th, 2012, 9:55 pm

Remember that there are a lot of different people with a lot of different personalities out there, and not everyone is funny/snarky/witty/bitchy/etc. There are some stoic/quiet/serious/even-keeled/etc people out there, too. Sure, they don't have the same tendency to leap off the page and stick in our memories, but that doesn't mean they're not valid, too.

User avatar
sldwyer
Posts: 41
Joined: August 17th, 2010, 11:56 am
Contact:

Re: Help! My main character has no character

Post by sldwyer » July 6th, 2012, 12:29 pm

Sometimes when a character is not working try visualizing a major incident with the MC. See in your mind how you would l ike her/him to react to the situation. You may come up with a surprise, especially if the reaction is way over the top. You can always tone it down but you might have some new insight to the character and find a few personality traits you didn't think about in the beginning.
Good luck

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 4 guests