Saturday, November 30, 2013

When Main Characters Don't Do Anything

Do you know what annoys me? Main characters that don't DO anything.

Let me elaborate. It really bothers me when the choices of the main character are either a) few and far between or b) don't make a difference. How can his happen? How can there be a story if the MC's actions aren't determining the plot?

I like to call it the minor character stealing the spotlight. Don't let your main character be a tag-along to the minor characters.

Here's an example:
MC (it usually happens to be a girl MC) has to escape from some evil government prison, and runs to the underground resistance. We spend at least 100 pages learning about the resistance, listening to the inner monologues of the MC. Usually the MC has some moral dilemma/guilt/remorse that doesn't come to a conclusion during these inner monologues. And we also get to hear (second hand of course) through the MC, as other characters do stuff (e.g. go on raids, sabotage the government, go on patrol etc.). The MC decides which meal she's going to have and who she's going to talk to in the lunchroom. Eventually the MC ends up helping somewhat (by following orders) in the final fight.

In this scenario the MC should be making decisions about how they're going to help the resistance. The leader tells me to stay at home and stay safe? "No way," MC should say, "I'm going to learn how to shoot and fight or I'm going to run a spy ring from the base or hack into their computers." It doesn't really matter what the MC does, as long as they're making a decisions that advance the plot. The MC shouldn't be letting the leader or other resistance members decide their future.

That doesn't mean that the MC should never follow orders or do what other characters tell them to. However, the MC should actively be making choices as they follow orders. For example, the leader tells the MC to go on patrol. MC follows orders and as they're patrolling they hear a noise in the bushes. The MC should be the one to check it out, not the other patrol member or another minor character.

Your main character is the main character for a reason; why wouldn't you give them the best lines, the best back-story and the best parts in the story? All of your characters should make interesting choices, but your MC should be the most interesting and make the biggest impact. Don't let your main character become just a witness of awesomeness of the minor characters.

What would The Hunger Games be if Katniss decided to follow Peeta around the entire area, letting him protect her?
What would Harry Potter be if Harry let Dumbledore defeat Voldemort?
What would Anne of Green Gables by like if Anne watched Diana walk to roof peek to put someone in their place?
What would Nancy Drew be like if Bess and George had all the "hunches"?

What would you story be like it your main character took back the spotlight?

Reading: Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris
Listening: Switchfoot
Watching: Haven


  1. I know this is a super old post but I found it through another of your posts and I found it really interesting so I thought I'd comment anyway! I absolutely agree with this- sometimes authors pick the wrong MC! I think they should go back and rewrite it if their MC isn't taking a starring role by the time they are 1/3 of the way through writing!

    1. Haha, no worries! I love all comments equally no matter how old the post. Thanks for sharing:)


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