Choosing Your Main Character

character creation honing the craft plotting revision tips and tricks Jun 15, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall.

Many fantasy writers, in particular, like to have multiple main characters in their books. While this is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, I've noticed that not having a clearly defined single protagonist can make planning, writing, and revising a novel incredibly difficult.

Why do I think there should be one, clearly defined protagonist?

Because a story is the journey of a character transforming. They go from believing one thing about themselves or the world at the start of the story to learning the truth by the end.

This relates back to the "why" behind your story. Being clear about this "why" will help you define your main character's arc of change—the way they change over the course of the story—since this arc should illustrate and support your story's "why".

So if you have a few "main" characters, think about which one is trying to take center stage. Does their character arc tie in with your story's "why"? If they were not part of your story, would you even have a story?

Choosing your main character also impacts the point of view (POV) you use to tell your story. Many books have one POV character, and many books have multiple POV characters. The conventions of your genre and age of intended audience may (and should, if your goal is traditional publishing) play a part in your choice of how many POVs you include.

Even in stories with dual POVs—where there are two characters that the writer takes turns following the tell the story—one of those characters will be the truly central character.

So how do you choose which character is the central character?

  • Consider your story's "why."
  • Consider the character arcs you have for your possible main characters.
  • Consider how those arcs do or don't support the "why" (hint: everything in your story should support this "why" in some way).
  • Consider which character(s) is absolutely indispensable—without them there would be no story.
  • Consider which POV perspective is invaluable—not necessarily from a plot level, but from an emotional level. For example, if you include a POV simply to fill the reader in on some events that are happening in a different location, that POV is not your main character.

After you have considered all of these elements, your central protagonist will probably make themselves known.

Once you know who your protagonist is, then you can more easily evaluate the roles of the other main characters you were thinking of including, as well as if any of those characters should have a POV. Sometimes you might find that a character who you thought was a "main" character is really just playing a supporting role. Other times you might discover that a character who you thought would be an amazing protagonist is not actually filling that role in your story.

Regardless of the outcome, taking the time to reflect on the "why" of your story and getting clear about whose story this really is will make a huge difference in how compelling your story will be when you are finished. If these core fundamental elements aren't clear in your mind, they definitely won't be clear on the page!

If you're struggling with this, book me for my Planning Help package! Choosing a main character is a major piece of the included workbook, and I would love to help you figure this out during the included coaching time.

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