Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Make Yourself the Main Character

Hello! So I sat down to write this post and came up with several possible ideas. But I thought about my favorite thing to find within a novel, which as we all know is the characters. I thought about my least favorite character related thing in amateur novels and this post is the result of that.

So the problem that I have both faced in my own writing and found in other's novels is this: Amateur authors tend to cast themselves as the main character. Here's the problem with that. When was the last time you read a good book about a normal person, with a totally normal life, who did totally normal things? Hopefully you have never been forced to read such a dull book. I would imagination that would be awful, and I would hope to spare you such a novel.

Writer's don't agree on much as far as the writing process goes, but I think almost everyone will agree that a good books is when good characters meet an interesting plot. And to have those things, you have to break from ordinary. So unless you're a professional thief, Olympic candidate, or daughter of a famous rock star, a character who is the literary incarnation of you is probably not a huge break from the ordinary.

In addition to that, we all view ourselves very unobjectively. So if you base a character off yourself you will find it very hard to portray that character as making bad decisions or doing the wrong thing. None of us like to present ourselves in a bad light, and so we will have the same problem with characters based off ourselves. We want them to be amazing heroes, and hope we will rise to any occasion we face, so when our characters have every right to be breaking down and giving up, we don't even let them show fear or doubt, because we hope we wouldn't either. (On a side note, it is also very hard to torture or emotionally devastate a character based intentionally on yourself.)

Disclaimer: It is perfectly plausible to have characters that originally seem like normal people, but as their stories play out, we realize they are more than that. Take the Pevensie children from the Chronicles of Narnia. They seem like perfectly normal people, but out of that Lucy because one of the most caring literary children I can think of. While Edmund is a bully who learns the error of his ways. Now, if you were Edmund and trying to write the story of Narnia, don't you think you would have a hard time exposing the selfishness Edmund shows?

So we've labeled it as a problem, but how to we fix it?
  1. Give your characters struggles you don't struggle with. I believe it was Lily J. who shared this idea with me and I think it's great!
  2. Switch the gender. (I'll be honest, this one is probably my favorite.) It is, I find, hard to represent my personality in a boy, because I am very girl-like. Just switching my main character from a girl to a boy really deepens my character.
  3. Give the character skills you don't have/want.  I am not a fantastic chef, but neither is it something I strongly desire for myself. If a character of yours is really great at something you don't really thinks about all that much, your character's interest in that hobby will lead to a different personality from yours.
  4. Give your characters a history that leads to an interesting person. I'm the middle child of a large family in a two parent home in the country. Nothing about my history or past makes me all that special. If I was the runaway daughter of a drug cartel leader, on the other hand, I would probably be a much more interesting character.
So that's what I have to say today. What do you think?  Anything you'd never heard before? Anything you disagree with? Or something that particularly stuck out to you? I'd love to hear your opinions! Either leave your answers in the comments or feel free to write up a similar blog post with your opinions on this topic and leave me the link!

Have a great week!


  1. I struggled with this for the longest time!! I'm getting better at it, though. Pinterest has helped me form a really clear image of the characters, which helps me a lot.

    1. I know!! I struggle with making my characters different still, but I'm working on it. One of them does drugs and is a wild party girl which is totally not me so yay for me on that one. I love Pinterest too!!!

  2. I used to have this problem at the very beginning. Now my problem is making everyone sarcastic, no matter who they are or what their personality is. ;P

  3. I... I did? When was... oh, that blog post. Right. That was clever of me. That's a good idea, I need to write that down somewhere so I remember it... :P

    Great post! My very first MC ever was directly based on me. Surprise, she wasn't a great MC. I still have trouble with me-like MCs, but it is getting better. I'll have to remember these tips!

    One thing that's worked for me was giving the MC a big flaw that I don't have. Silla isn't afraid to say mean/rude things to people, and I don't do that. There is no doubt that Silla and I are different people.

  4. It's very interesting to see that others have the same problem, especially when writing their first book. I based my main character on myself subconsciously and have had no end of trouble with her.

  5. I din't realise I was the only person struggling with this! I have a boy character who started out like me, but changing him to a boy made him a much better character.
    I often stop and think 'what would I do if this was me?' Then my character does the opposite (not all the time though, otherwise they would all be the same).

    Great post!

  6. Very good post.
    I've struggled with this before when I role played on forums and stuff. It's easy to make a character, not so much a copy of myself, but the me I wish I could be. And just apply that type to whatever character I was playing. It's easy to project yourself onto a character. You're never going to /not/ put a part of yourself in a character. The point is letting the character be themselves.

    Two points I really liked were giving my character a struggle I don't have, and giving them skills I don't have. For instance, I'm writing a character who suffers from drug abuse. I have never ever struggled with that. But through research I'm able to get into her head. As far as giving charries skills I don't have, I find people watching helps with developing that talent.

    A very enjoyable read. :)

  7. Great post!! Switching genders helps me too!

  8. This is actually kind of perfect, thank you!

    ~Cailey (

  9. I made myself the main characters friend... except book me is an orphan living with her grandmother and adopted brother and she can actually cook.... weirdly, it is very easy to show her in a bad light and near torture....maybe I'm just weird that way

  10. I was shocked at the title of your post. I am a first time novelist and of course the protagonist is (drum roll)myself. It never occurred to me this would be a problem. I feel like I can change this easily though. great comments too.


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