The Lifeblood of Your Story
Okay so you have this awesome idea in mind, a good premise, and an excellent ending, plus maybe even a solid outline to take you through the dreaded marathon of the middle. Yet, you freeze when trying to create your main protagonist.
Several questions may run through your mind.
Is this main character likable?
Will readers feel for and care about them?
How can I make this character stand out?
These questions go on.
So, I’m here to give you a quick rundown on what goes into making your main character loved by all reading your novel or book series.
While you’re right that a lot goes into creating the best character you can, the truth is you can derive them from numerous influences surrounding you.
This list I’m about to show is going to carry a tagline of including, but not limited to since it’s only a fraction of the wonderous list of ways to create your main character. However, these tips do provide some of the more important aspects of the game.
Insert Something Tragic
Some of our most interesting characters have seen some type of tragedy in their backstory. My character, Cain, has seen this when his backstory is revealed in Northern Knights. Ditto for my two main supporting characters, Lira and Savannah, the latter of which experiences tragedy time and again.
To really get your readers to feel for the main character, something horrendous should’ve happened in their past to set them on a track they’re on at the time of the writing. While we don’t need several pages of backstory, allow their tragedy to seep out naturally, hinting the reader and allowing them to piece everything together.
Get them in Trouble
Get them in trouble and do it early, preferably in chapter one if you’re writing a standalone. If you’re writing a series, be sure to hint at trouble brewing. While Cain doesn’t experience trouble until chapter two, chapter one foreshadows incoming trouble starting at page one, which carries through the entire chapter.
The more trouble you get your main in, the more readers will remain glued to the pages. You need to keep adding trouble throughout the text. For Cain, it starts with military conscription and the trouble continues from there, where he becomes a fugitive, gets involved with the incoming revolution, and the target on his back grows.
Never ease on the throttle, either. Keep showing your readers each new obstacle of trouble is deeper than the previous.
Set Their Eyes on the Prize
The main character needs to want something and this should be clear early. While they don’t have to want an outcome from the getgo, it needs to at least be present early. As for Cain, he only wants to live an oblivious life of luxury. If he has what he wants, he’s cool with the mass dystopia poisoning the rest of the world.
Yet, Cain’s thoughts change as this hits home, witnessing what his best friend has been forced to live through for years. Things come to a head early on, hence the trouble, and Cain’s own backstory bleeds out.
It doesn’t take long until Cain’s goals start to shift, realizing no matter how free he might think he is possessing everything he’s ever wanted in the material world, he’ll never be free. In fact, he realizes the diabolical plot to take over his world and wants to do everything in his power to put an end to it.
Give them Character Flaws
Your main character can’t be perfect. In fact, they should have some major character flaws to make them more believable for one, and for another, to give them something they must find to build within themselves.
Cain’s flaws are apparent from the first page where he’s this good looking, popular college athlete and he knows it. He realizes he can win over just about anyone with his skills and looks to the point it goes straight to his head and couldn’t care less who he encounters. He’s Cain Riscattare and the world needs to bow down to and respect that.
For this, the reader will understand early that while Cain has some of the best intentions, he also has to fix himself. He has a shoot first, ask questions later kind of personality, swears more than a sailor, and if things aren’t going his way he’ll throw a fit reminiscent of a diva.
He’s a hybrid of Baker Mayfield and O’Dell Beckham, to throw a hint out regarding his personality. However, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a soft side.
When tragedy strikes and Savannah is victimized, Cain immediately rushes to her aid and goes out of his way to make sure she’s okay. It’s also Cain who welcomes Savannah, an outcast due to her race, into his group. When Lira spills out her backstory halfway through the text, Cain’s the first to console her.
So, take these four cornerstones, as I like to call them, and infuse them into your main character. Remember, the main character should be like any other character, but the prize they’re after should be set high enough for them to not only confront their rivals but also to work on themselves.
Les Edgerton once stated in his book ‘Hooked’ that each main character needs to have a story worthy problem, or else the story falls apart. The only two people who should know what this story worthy problem is are the author and the main character, even if the latter doesn’t know right away.
For some of us, it’s tough to master these strategies, especially in our first novel because truth be told, many of us, myself included, tend to base our main characters on themselves. However, as much as we’d love to believe it, none of us are perfect and we all have at least one flaw in our own character we can improve upon. Remember your flaws and infuse them into your main.
None of us are perfect and the best way to make this realistic to your readers is to show it through your main character.