How to Write More Interesting Main Characters

Everybody loves a villain these days while the heroes tend to get slid-lined. There are lots of factors for this switch that writers can’t change, but there are ways to make your protagonist as interesting as your villain without having to write another anti-hero.

How, you ask? Let me tell you.

Be Active

Probably the biggest reason why your protagonist is boring is because, largely, he or she simple reacts to whatever the antagonist does. Villains tend to have a goal that disrupts another’s life and forces that person into action. Naturally, then, readers will find the villain more interesting, perhaps even more sympathetic. The villain has a dream and everyone can relate to that.

We, as humans, like to see people take action and want them to accomplish their goals. However, characters who sit simply react to someone else’s actions seem . . . boring, dull, and one-dimensional by comparison. The fact is most (if not everyone) has a dream. It doesn’t have to be a big or grand, but people have goals. Having a character that just acts to stop someone else’s goals does not create a relatable, dynamic character. And, yes, I know, there are other ways to make a character relatable and interesting. However, active characters (those who do things and form their own plans) are always more interesting than passive ones (those who respond the another’s actions).

This doesn’t mean your character has to be a “chess master” who outplays the villain; it simple means your character needs to take independent actions to achieve his or her own goals. These goals do not need to be in response to the villain’s action. Another tip: have your protagonist actively working towards a goal and then the villain comes and messes things up for them. If you establish your character as active before the villain comes along, that perception will carry through to the reader for a bit.

Get Real

The day of thee super-perfect protagonist has died. While there is some place for it, for the most part people do not want to read about the “perfect” guy or girl who excels at everything, fights for justice, loves and forgives everyone and all things good while having the ultimate power to do so. Yeah, not so much. These days, readers crave relatable characters that have kinks in their armor and flaws in their personalities. Giving your character flaws will likely increase how much your reader enjoys and attaches to him/her.

There use to be (and still is somewhat) this idea that protagonists should be a “blank slate” personality so that the reader can put his/herself into the story and become that character. Now writers know that tends to create extremely boring protagonists, and it is better to let the reader relate to a character whose has his/her own vibrant personality. Sometimes, readers will even connect to a character through that character’s fault.

Go Beyond

Many people have probably heard this tip before, but one way to make a main protagonist more interesting is to make him/her more relatable to the reader. An easy (ish) way to do this is by giving the character likes, dreams, quirks, hobbies and the like outside of the main story arch. This will really make them come to life. For example, a baker who wants to open her/his own shop also enjoys origami. That makes this baker unique and more “real”.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Also, if there are any topics you are curious about let me know! If I have a good answer for you, I’ll write a blog post about it.

Lastly, if you’re looking for great writing advice and where I get most of mine, check out Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on YouTube. He’ll teach you how to write “better” and how to come across like a professional instead of hobbyist.

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