Harperpages

The blog of author Harper Alexander

Writing Main Characters – My New Secret

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I discovered something interesting the other day. For awhile now, I’ve struggled with my main characters. I have trouble developing them, liking them, making them even the slightest bit interesting at all. I really try, I follow all the formulas, I sit and I daydream and try to get in their heads, try to think about what I’ve loved about past MC’s of mine, try to remember what my secret used to be when I LIVED to sit down every day and get in my MC’s heads… All to no avail. They continue to fall flat, like I’m just out of juice.

Meanwhile, however, there’s always some side character that just happens to sort of steal the show. Their lines are funnier, or cooler; their personalities are edgier; they’re the ones that spark with potential chemistry with the love interest… I’m not sure how or why it happens, but it’s been happening in every story lately. I lifted my pen the other day to point this out to my writing mate, and suddenly realized the key to the problem might lie within the problem. There I was, unable to force the character I was trying to force, while another character stole the spotlight with ease. There I was, beating my head against one and denying another that I desperately wanted to write instead. And I finally realized…if one character is speaking to me, demanding the spotlight, why don’t I give it to her?

I think sometimes, getting ‘serious’ about writing and all of the research that comes with that, all the tips to hone your craft and polish your work, can really work against you. My struggle with main characters these days definitely correlates to realizing their importance. Obviously, they’ve always been important. But you don’t get very far into honing your hobby as a craft without having it officially preached that your main characters really carry the story. So, yeah, somewhere along the way I definitely psyched myself out with the pressure to make them great. It used to come naturally, because there was a time when I wrote purely for fun, purely as an escape, without deadlines or rules or any of these other formulas or pressures to write for an audience. I’ve never done well under pressure. Apparently, neither do my main characters.

So I’m planning an experiment. How interesting would it be to plan a plotline, throw some players onto the board and see who ends up standing out? I don’t think I’ve ever started a story without coming up with the main character first, so it’s going to be interesting. I’m not really sure how to do it, and it might be a disaster. I’m sort of envisioning just writing a chapter from each character’s perspective, and seeing who shines above the others. Seeing whose perspective I’m most drawn to writing. It may require writing continuous chapters from all of their perspectives as the story progresses, and cutting the less relevant ones later, but I’m thinking it might be worth it.

Who knows, I may have just found a loop hole in my characterization struggles. If I can trick myself into cultivating awesome little upstarts on the side, I’m not going to deny them their glory.

How do you deal with mental blocks where your MC’s development is concerned? Are there any tricks you’ve found to work better than others? Leave a comment and let me know!

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