What do you do when your main character just doesn't seem to jump off the page? I feel like the rest of my characters, even the world are really well developed but my POV protagonist just doesn't seem nearly as engaging compared to some of them.
Hi, love! Thanks for your question and your patience <3
So I’d first redirect you to this LGF post about creating strong characters – it outlines a lot of things that I won’t cover here. But I will expand on it for this question, because this is more than creating a strong character. Main characters need to be iconic, especially if a work is character-driven. A protagonist should stand out; they should be memorable and unique.
Memorable, noticeable characters have:
- Something to say – Whether they’re physically saying something (”Just keep swimming!”) or whether you’re saying something through them (in Finding Nemo, Nemo’s character delivered a message about disability and growing up), main characters must be communicating something to the reader. Readers hear better than they see, so what your character says will stick with them better than how your characters looks, dresses, or emotes.
- Something to do – Like all characters, your protagonists need to play a prominent role in the story. If a character is just there to be there, readers will sense it and they’ll look somewhere else. They must be active, occupied throughout the whole story. Even if they’re sitting in a room, listening to two other people talk, they should be actively listening to those people talk. Here is a post on active characters to help you.
- Something hateable – This is a good test for memorable characters: ask yourself if there’s a reason for anyone to hate them. Is there something about them – habits, social skills, conflicts, or even their sense of humor – that someone out there could read and absolutely despise? Anything? Even if they’re a “good” character, there should be something strong enough in them that it could rub someone the wrong way. If not, your character may be bland, and thereby forgettable.
- A unique look and sound – Your characters don’t need purple hair, an Irish accent, and feathers growing out of their tail to be unique. But think about the image of them in your head. Do they look and talk like a specific celebrity? Are they inspired by one person very strongly, rather than pieces of multiple people? If so, you may be projecting a character onto a person, instead of creating the person on the whole. Give them something unexpected about their look – fashion, tattoos, skin imperfections/discolorations, glasses/braces, body type, etc. – and their voice – social skills, opinions, emotions, sense of humor, formality, speech impediments, etc.
- A strong name – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: protagonists need names that count. It doesn’t have to be super weird or made-up, but it should (a) fit their personality and universe, and (b) jump off the page. Alliteration sometimes helps (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner), and you can go with a “normal” first name and a unique last name (Tony Stark, Clark Kent). Go through baby name websites, or play around with traditional names to give them a twist. Find the right name, and you’ll know it.
That’s all I have for you right now, but if this doesn’t answer your question, be sure to let us know! I wish you much luck and happy writing :) Thanks again!
– Mod Joanna ♥️