Mar 09 2012

Picking the Right Main Character

Published by at 6:05 am under Discussion Board,Narration

What are some stories that picked the wrong main character?  Who would you have used instead and why?


At the risk of idiotically commenting on a series I haven’t actually read, I think Twilight would have been more interesting from Jacob’s perspective* than from Bella’s.  The story, as I understand it, is a tragedy about an emotionally ravaged Bella falling in thrall to an abusive boyfriend and pushing non-abusive guys out of her life. I suspect Stephenie Meyer would probably have realized how creepy the Bella-Edward dynamic came across if she were writing from the perspective of a third character.  (Plus, it would have spared readers the cesarean-by-teeth scene).


*Or the perspective of Bella’s mother or father.  They’re probably not aware that their daughter attempted suicide over a high school romance, but the father would have to be oblivious not to realize that something was distinctly amiss.  (I suspect the mother would be more interesting–she might have some conflict with the father about whether this custody situation is healthy for Bella.  The plot would probably have to change to bring the mother more into contact with her daughter, though).

18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Picking the Right Main Character”

  1. steton 09 Mar 2012 at 6:29 am

    Firefly. That was the doctor’s story, not the captain’s. The doctor was a fish out of water, and he had the most at stake, trying to protect his messed-up and hunted sister. The captain was a pretty good Han Solo clone, but structurally, the story wasn’t his.

  2. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 6:32 am

    Speaking of Star Wars, I suspect the prequels would have been vastly better if they had focused on Obi-Wan (or, more daringly, Palpatine) rather than “Annie” Skywalker. Besides Jar-Jar Binks, most of what was awful about the prequels was caused by the focus on Anakin–specifically, “Mannequin” had horrible actors, podracing was a total bore, and George Lucas has never been particularly good at romance. I think it takes a lot of finesse to make a teen romance that doesn’t feel like a CW cast-off. Lucas doesn’t have it.

    I believe that ALL of the characters that appeared in both series were less interesting and likable in the prequels than in the originals*, but nobody got ravaged more by the prequels than Darth Vader. (“Annie”? Why would you do that to Darth Vader, George Lucas?)

    *R2-D2 may be an exception, but those are mighty slim pickings.

  3. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 7:03 am

    In Soon I Will Invincible, I think Fatale was a distraction from the much more interesting Dr. Impossible. If the publisher and/or author really, really wanted to have two narrators, I would have recommended Lilly over Fatale since Lilly has a greater impact on the plot* and a more interesting concept (“what if Lois Lane were hiding from Superman that she had superpowers?” > “what if Black Widow were a cyborg?”).

    *Lilly is the one that actually defeats Dr. Impossible in the climax. Also, she’s the love interest of Dr. Impossible and CoreFire.

  4. Trudyon 09 Mar 2012 at 10:58 am

    I completely agree! There was a section of Breaking Dawn from Jacob’s point of view and it was wayyy more interesting than Bella’s narration. The books probably would have been less whiny too.

  5. Goaton 09 Mar 2012 at 12:51 pm

    What are some other examples do you think? I’m curious because my manuscript is about a reporter who lives in a super filled world, so it’s a bit different from most superhero stories which can be a challenge but a fun and rewarding one at that. I guess I’m asking more about atypical protagonists rather than better ones ha ha.

  6. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 1:18 pm

    “I guess I’m asking more about atypical protagonists rather than better ones ha ha.” The point of view character doesn’t need to be the main character. However, in such cases, it’s especially important that the POV character’s perspective bring something to the picture that the actual main characters don’t. Some cases where I think a secondary-character-as-POV worked well: Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, All the King’s Men, Sherlock Holmes stories*, etc.

    *I’m torn on whether Watson is a main character. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, I would say he probably isn’t because the plots wouldn’t change much without him. (He does, however, play a vital role in helping the reader understand what Sherlock is doing and thinking–he just doesn’t affect the plot much).

  7. Carl Shinyamaon 09 Mar 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Kingdom Come:

    Norman McCay. While I get that he was told to observe and pass judgment on those responsible for the events that are to come, I always thought that the story was more or less about Superman. It might have been better if it was told from Superman’s perspective, but if they had to go with someone else’s perspective, Batman would have been the better option

  8. Asukaon 09 Mar 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Hi SN, i’m back again. By the way, can you delete that one comment that I mentioned with my name and where I live at? O.O Anyway, what I was came to say was, I have a problem…

    I used to write for myself, just creating characters that appealed me by their looks.. Then I’d add personality to them, and create plot etc. And just write about them. One time, my uncle tried to publish one of my stories.. about some kids who escape from their house and go to a carnival thinking they can do whatever they want and finally realize they can’t do whatever they want and disobey the rules.

    Later on I realized the thing was just too preachy… Ever since the publishers Zondervan, said “Thanks for the story..” and nothing else. I got discouraged. And so I seeked help, different websites gave me meaner advice, and some were nice. But then I realized the methods of the “how to write a story advice” were different from eachother..

    I then lost the reason why I wrote. And now I don’t think I can write the way I used to anymore.

    I don’t know what to do anymore.

    Have any advice? 😮
    Thanks, Asuka ^-^

  9. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 1:51 pm

    If Superman wasn’t an option, I agree that Batman is a more natural choice than McCay. Batman tends to make characters around him more interesting and his perspective is always lively. The Superman/Batman series (which came out several years later) suggests to me that Batman can even make Superman interesting, which is the most difficult feat a DC character can be called to accomplish.

    The premise with McCay felt a bit forced to me. (I’m grappling with a related issue in The Taxman Must Die–how do I make it feel believable that a decidedly un-super IRS agent has a role* in a superhero story without completely shattering the suspension of disbelief?)

    *Well, just not a role, but the titular role.

  10. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Hello, Asuka.

    –I’ve deleted the original comment.

    –The publishing industry is extremely competitive and I would recommend not being fazed by one rejection. Or twenty. The average novelist takes about 10 years to get published and faces a LOT of rejection along the way. Rejection –> rewriting –> improvement –> (eventually) publication.

    –The publishing industry is pretty much a perfect storm of unfriendliness. Crazy deadlines, incredibly tight profit margins, and New York City have inflicted considerable damage on many publishing professionals. I wouldn’t worry about it if you’ve been getting a curt reception–keep practicing, and people will find more time for you as your skills sharpen. Also, I would recommend keeping your age out of the equation as much as possible–by and large, I think professionals are jaded against writers in your age bracket. (Thought experiment: over the past three years, your writing has gotten substantially better, right? The same will be true of the next three years, and the three years after that, and so on. So… keep practicing and your work will get much sharper).

    –Instead of competing against professional writers who have had 10, 20 or 30 years to practice, it may help to start out with smaller stakes. Are there any literary publications in your school district?

    “I don’t think I can write the way I used to anymore. I don’t know what to do anymore.” Hmm. One option is to read widely–hopefully, try some genres and styles you haven’t seen much of yet and see if new writing styles catch your fancy. One possibility is that you’ll find books that have moral messages akin to the ones you were trying to write but that handle the messaging in a more artful way. For example, pretty much EVERY detective story comes with the implied message that “if you commit a crime, opium-fueled super-detectives will hunt you down like a wild animal” or “crime doesn’t pay” or something along those lines. However, the author’s main goal is almost never to deter readers from a life of crime. Just tell a good story, write believable characters and the message will speak for itself. Lastly, this article may help.

  11. Asukaon 09 Mar 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Just to conclude, you are saying I can write about whatever I want, without worrying about competing with others. And write like I used to?

    By the way, does manga count as reading books?

  12. Asukaon 09 Mar 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks for deleting my other post.

  13. B. McKenzieon 09 Mar 2012 at 6:55 pm

    “…you are saying I can write about whatever I want, without worrying about competing with others. And write like I used to?” You can write whatever you want. There may or may not be a market for it–I can’t gauge that, given that I am neither 1) very familiar with your work nor 2) particularly experienced in the publishing industry.

    Generally speaking, though, an author with sufficient practice can execute his/her way through some difficult situations. For example, superhero novels generally do not sell very well, but George R. R. Martin and his team found a way to make the Wild Cards series work. Michael Chabon sold approximately a bajillion copies of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Soon I Will Be Invincible has 200 ratings between Amazon and B&N, so my back-of-the-envelope guess is that it sold more than 20,000 copies (quite good for a first novel).

    “By the way, does manga count as reading books?” Don’t count, just read. 🙂

  14. R. Foxon 09 Mar 2012 at 9:18 pm


    also, as far as what to read i highly encourage reading a wide variety of writers other than manga. not that manga is bad, it is a widely popular artform, but it would be beneficial to read from sources that make you picture scenes in your head as well. to be a good writer that is something you will need to be able to convey, draw a scene from your mind and put it into words. the more you read, the more “word scenes” you are exposed to and become familiar with the process of how to go about creating them. also, by having a wide variety of read books to draw from you will see things that work and things that don’t which will only serve to grow your writing skills.

    as for specific books, i recommend checking out stephen king’s “on writing” book. it is fantastic for just seeing how he approached writing and some writing technique. add that to your list of other books being read and you will begin to notice things you never even knew existed inside the pages of a book. it is quite good and valuable.

    hope that helped and good luck,

    R. Fox

  15. Nightwireon 09 Mar 2012 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve just thought of a great example from Discworld. In the very first Night Watch novel, “Guards! Guards!”, it is clear that Terry Pratchett set Carrot up to be the main character. But after a while the story was completely hijacked by Captain Samuel Vimes because the author found out that his POV is more interesting. And you know the rest… Sam Vimes went to become the greatest and most popular Discworld character.

    Come to think of it, the Vimes/Carrot dynamic is eerily similar to that of Batman/Superman.

  16. Cuddleson 10 Mar 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I would have liked to read one of the Harry Potter novels from Sirius Black’s point of view. That would have been awesome.

  17. NeonFractionon 15 Mar 2012 at 1:52 am

    I think the big problem with ‘it would have been better from blah blah’s POV’ is that it immediately becomes a completely different story.

    I do like the different ways people have chosen to do POV. 3rd person is amazing for its ability to switch around without seeming awkward. The Everworld series is probably the best I’ve ever seen at changing character POV, having a consistent storyline but rotating between the 4 main characters from book to book.

    I also recently got done watching Durarara!! which had the show revolve around the city as the main character instead of a single person. The narrator changes each episode, but the stories all take place all within Ikebukuro. They also make the pretty awesome art style choice of having only important characters show up in color. Everyone in crowds is grey and featureless, and they use this in a pretty impressive way later.

    It’s always good to remember in a story, especially written, that you don’t have to be constrained to a single character as a narrator. The shorter the story is, the more awkward and difficult this becomes, but having multiple POVs also gives the world a richness it might not have had before.

  18. TheJediPenguinon 02 Apr 2012 at 3:39 pm

    So I’m back! *feels like a horrible person for not commenting on things regularly*

    Anyway, over he weekend I watched The Adventures of Tintin, and honestly, was overall disappointed. I’ve been trying to hash out why, and I think the biggest reason was because it wasn’t Tintin’s story– It was Haddock’s. I thought of Tintin as more of a plot device, he was boring, and at first very annoying. Snowy was more interesting. I haven’t read the the books, admittedly, but honestly, this part of the movie bugged me

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