The blog of author Harper Alexander

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Writing Main Characters – My New Secret

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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Writing Yourself into Corners

You write yourself into corners sometimes. Big ones, small ones, medium-sized ones. Sometimes they’re the silliest little things, and you agonize over how to get out of them, how to get around them, how to trick them into letting you pass without knowing the password. (I’ve yet to successfully be like, ‘Ha! I tricked you good, didn’t I, Corner?!’ and continue on my merry flouncing way, unimpeded). And sometimes, if you’re smart enough (smarter than I tend to be), you realize you don’t have to.

Today’s example: this character has been running across a danger-filled fantasy island of sorts, trying to get to shore so she can get back on board a certain ship that serves as a safe haven. I pretty much put her through hell, had to come up with clever ways for her to navigate back toward the vague location of the ship, and even threw in some luck for how she ended up pinpointing the thing. Only to realize once she did, there are certain impediments I already established in the water keeping her from swimming the last few dozen yards to safety. And it’s night time, and the shore is too dark for anyone on board to see her, and she can’t stand there yelling and waving her arms to get their attention lest she attract some of the aforementioned dangers from inland.

So I’ve been sitting here for far too long agonizing over how in the heck she’s going to get on board that ship, when it suddenly dawned on me – maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she sits down in utter defeat, plagued by the exhaustion and injuries acquired by getting to that point, and maybe she succumbs to unconsciousness right then and there. Maybe it’s okay for her to collapse just shy of reaching her safe haven. Maybe it’s okay for her to simply…sleep on the beach that night. And either it presents an opportunity for her to get into more trouble, or it’s just freaking realistic.

Sometimes it’s okay to be realistic. Let’s be honest; there are probably far too many instances that you’re not.

(Turns out, in this instance, it sets the stage better for the next scene in my book anyway. Who knew?)

Back to writing!…