Fiction Friday: Three Musts for Creating a Good Main Character

Have you ever read a book and wondered why you were still reading it? Something about it didn’t capture your interest. There’s a story going on, and things are happening, but you just don’t care.

I’m going to venture to say that one of the reasons for this is the main character.

What Makes a Great Character?

Characters are the most important aspect of a book, because they are who the readers relate to or have curiosity about. Some say that plot and character are inseparable, because the characters’ actions,  are what make the story play out.

Without caring about the main character, it’s difficult to follow the through-line of any story. If we’re not intrigued, curious, or if we don’t give a crap about the main character, we will be hard-pressed to keep reading. There are too many other great things out there to read!

I’m always grateful to twitter’s #YALITCHAT  for interesting topics, and this week’s chat was no different. We talked about character and what makes a good one.

The Three Musts

Here are three musts that make a great character:

  1. The main character must have a yearning driving them, and we must find out what that yearning is. That yearning can be anything, from a desire to see the ocean (as in The Forest of Hands and Teeth) to a desire to belong.
  2. The main character must take action in the story. You cannot have a compelling character who does absolutely nothing (unless perhaps their non-doing is their chosen action, and then there must be a purpose for that, and that purpose must be revealed). Since it is the characters’ actions that move the story along, a story featuring characters who never make their own choices or take action themselves is a dull one.
  3. The main character must change through the story. They have impact on others and bring change to them as well. Think of how much Harry Potter changed. The very basis of the hero’s journey itself is that the hero undergoes a journey that changes him (or her).

Imagine this tiny turtle was your main character. What do you suppose its yearning would be?

Now, I realize I’ve barely scratched the surface, with this. Truthfully, I want to consider this further. So please tell me, what are some things you think make a great character?


2 thoughts on “Fiction Friday: Three Musts for Creating a Good Main Character

  1. Blair says:

    Hi Lisa! Great points, as usual. I think, in addition, your main character should have some sort of redeeming characteristic – something that makes them relatable or likable to at least some degree. I remember discussing Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee in class once, and a lot of my classmates hated the book because they hated the main character. He had all three “musts” that you talk about, but the students could neither relate to him nor find any redeeming qualities in him. I disagreed – I still found the book to be compelling despite the unlikable main character, but I can understand why my classmates had problems getting engaged in his story.

  2. toithomas says:

    I agree with your 3 musts, but have one small objection. I don’t think the main character always has to be likable, but I do think they have to one extreme or another. The main character should either someone you love or someone you hate. The main character should bring out some sort of passion in the reader, to either root for them or to despise them. When I read Game of Thrones: Fire and Ice, I almost hated Ned Stark. Yes, he was honest and pure, but he was also a fool. I loved being so annoyed by him.

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