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What Do You Look For in a Main Character?

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 2:14 am
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wildlyabstract says...

Personally, I'm a big fan of female protagonists that are incredibly good at fighting. In science fiction novels, hand to hand combat is badass, as well as weapons of all kinds.

In other (more realistic) novels, I enjoy a character that isn't afraid to stand up to the bad guy, or the bully. She never takes no for an answer when she wants something, and she stands up for what she believes in at all costs.

It's no surprise, when I read through my own unpublished works, that I enjoy characters like this. Honestly, in every single thing I've written, if my character can't fight with his or her hands, then you can sure as hell bet they'll be fighting with their words.

Characters who make sarcastic jokes when they aren't kicking ass are my absolute favorite. Maybe it's an unconscious desire of mine to be someone like that, I suppose...

One other trait, which is actually probably the complete opposite of everything I've just described, is a character who enjoys art, doesn't particularly like talking, and loves being in their own private world. It's even better when there is a character like this that comes out of their shell sometime throughout the plot, and turns into more of a fighter as time progresses.

Anyway, that's my favorite kind of character. What's yours?


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Thu Feb 16, 2017 3:49 am
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inktopus says...

I love characters that are very obviously flawed. For me, a tragic backstory doesn't equal character development or any flaws. I love incredibly realistic characters that I can love despite how messed up they are.
insert profound quote here

Formerly Stormcloud

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 4:21 am
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Megrim says...

Tough women and soft men, is my short answer.

For example, super awesome female characters I love include Suzan Ivanova, Jadzia Dax, River Song, Debra Morgan (Dexter's sister), and Dana Scully.

Adorable gentle male characters I love include Julian Bashir, Simon Tam, Newt Scamander, the Doctor, and Castiel. I have a particular fondness for doctors, nurses, or otherwise medical characters.

There is also a subset of female characters I am totally in love with which are the... adorable cuddly smart girls? Such as Willow from Buffy or Kaylee from Firefly. (These are the ones I'm most apt to end up with a crush on).

In more general terms, I very much like dark guilty pasts. Someone who's committed some terrible act because of what they believed, or what their job was, or whose side they were on, and are now haunted by those actions. OR, if they haven't done much to speak of in the past, maybe they're in a hairy, shades-of-grey situation in the present. First season of Arrow is an excellent example of dark, confused, almost anti-hero type protagonist. In later seasons, when they start making him more "pure good" he gets a lot more boring.

Secret identities is also always a fun one, as well as intimate male relationships (romantic, brothers, best friends, anything that involves deep emotion). Frankly, I like male characters who have and express emotion, because too many get stereotyped to be either angry or brooding.

I also loooove diverse characters, particularly with ability and sexuality or gender identity, but any "not something I've experienced / not commonly represented" perspective is fun for me. I would love to see a space opera with a trans hero or a heist story with a lesbian couple, that sort of thing.

What I really don't like? Tropes.

That's easy to say but they're utterly rampant, especially for female characters. You know what really sucks? The you're-not-like-all-the-other-girls sort of trope, where she's anti-girly-girl and more, well, like a boy, and therefore the guys respect her as one of them. Also any gender stereotyping with profession or proficiencies (even ones that seem "good"--a lot of female heroines are carbon copies of each other, especially in YA). If you want to spend all day stuck on tvtropes, they've got a page on gender dynamics: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... amicsIndex (particularly check out the female section, and the subset "relational" includes some of the more insidious ones)

Oh and one last, very important quality: agency. Agency above all else.

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:25 pm
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Mea says...

In general, I must be able to root for the main character. I'm not a huge fan of anti-heroes, although troubled/morally gray is usually fine especially if they themselves aren't so sure about their actions. They should also be interesting, though honestly how interesting they need to be really depends on how much I like that particular genre. And not too passive, but that's general writing advice anyway.

I really like characters that are kind, that go out of their way to help someone or are generally really soft-hearted. This goes for both girls and guys, and it's not something I actually see that often in fiction. This is why I love Ender from Ender's Game. And the Doctor. And Clara, actually - it's why she's one of my favorite companions.

I've only recently started to shift into adult fiction, but I've discovered I love adult characters with families/kids. I'm not sure why. And my favorite type of romantic stuff is when the two characters are already married.

I don't really like tough women, not as main characters at least. I'm just really tired of the trope and I don't really like tough guys either. "Tough" in general is overrated to me. The sassy MC I'm similarly tired of. I love some of them, but with others it's just them being rude or cynical. I *do* love characters with an ear for wordplay, though.
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Thu Feb 16, 2017 4:12 pm
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PrincessInk says...

My favorite kinds of characters are--though they have tons of flaws--is that they have a kind heart underneath and they mean good. I also want them to act--not just stay home and complain and do nothing. These days, I'm starting to get a bit tired of fantasy MCs with a "destiny" hanging over their heads, but as long as the book is exciting, I'll keep reading.

I also like MCs that change in the story--have a "character arc". I do not want characters who go through ordeals and come out unchanged. What's the point for the ordeals anyway?
always daydreaming, always clumsy

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:32 pm
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jimss23 says...

For me, I like a character that is powerful physically but has mental issues. They struggle much more on the inside than they do on the outside. I also like characters who's personalities (or powers) are completely different from their outward appearance.

For example, one of my MC's is a man who posses a really powerful shield and is an amazing fighter, but has serious anger management issues, is unnecessarily violent and suffers from guilt about what he does to those close to him. Another is a badass woman who has the power of electromagnetic manipulation but is a sadomasochistic and a sex-addict.

You get the idea. Personally, I find these characters the most fun and versatile to write and the most fun to read. Their personalities and actions can be all over the place, and you don't have to worry about them having to overcome some physical issue to beat the bad guy. Not only do they have to fight the external evil, but the internal as well.

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 9:40 pm
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StellaThomas says...

I'm a bit over the sarcastic, kick-butt, emotionally closed off protagonist.

I prefer more ordinary people? I don't understand protagonists who are initially rude and sarcastic to everyone they meet because, honestly, who is actually like that? So I'm more drawn to people more like me: friendly, polite, who try to be gentle and kind to people who deserve it, rather than to just be unhelpful from the outset. Purely because I find that more realistic.

Not that I'm against a sense of humour. I much prefer it if they have a sense of humour, obviously! But "sarcastic and fiery" are my least favourite words when describing a protagonist - particularly a female one.

I also really strongly dislike female protagonists who openly dislike other female characters, just because. That immediately makes me lose a large chunk of sympathy for them.
"Stella. You were in my dream the other night. And everyone called you Princess." -Lauren2010

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Mon Feb 20, 2017 3:33 am
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Cub says...

Frankly, I've always been kind of weird about this.
I hate strong characters, because I sort of feel that they're an overused trope. What I'd like to see for a main character, is a loser--a loser that stays a loser for the entire story, with no prophecies, no superpowers. I'd kind of like for the character to be really weak in fighting, and also really cynical. Kind of a selfish character that gets roped into doing good by teammates.
I really hate the 'strong woman' type character, and the sassy MC, because I always find them to be really annoying, with little to no personality outside of their archetypes. Not saying it can't be done well--it just usually isn't. I do kind of like the idea of having a main character who's sort of a psychopath, cold to the bone, the kind that would watch people die, and not care a bit, and yet, of course, is fighting for the good guys. That could be pretty interesting, and would give an opportunity for great fight scenes.
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Thu Mar 02, 2017 9:30 pm
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Rosendorn says...

I look for unlikeability.

Whiny? Bratty? Entitled? Self centred? Snivelling? Petty? Fearful? Angry?

Yes. Please.

Because then they're human. If it happens in a protagonist, I get tons of laughs out of the exasperated "you did what"s from other characters (or worried that their own faults will catch up with them, and I want to find out how). If it happens with an antagonist, I get sickeningly fascinated at what lengths they would go to in order to alleviate what they feel they are owed.

That isn't to say I'm particularly fond of villain protagonists, or characters are all just passively letting the world go by with a victim complex. No, I want people who use these traits to drive them forward. My life is built around "pick your poison", and I like it when people follow that in fiction. Having these unlikable points give characters reason to change something, to go after something.

Fighting with these negative traits also lets heroes choose heroism. They're not inherently good people. They know that, theoretically, they should do certain good acts. That people will like that they do certain good acts. That there is some sort of greater good out there, that they can contribute to if they want, and despite everything that they could do, they decide to go for a general "better."

But sometimes they don't, and that sometimes bites them later. Or they get away with it. Or there's a butterfly effect they never could've guessed.

Unlikeability leads to agency. Unlikability leads to natural plot events that don't feel like a forced drama ball.

And, maybe, it gives a little hope to people that no matter what the voices in their head say, they can be heroes, too.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

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Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:31 pm
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Mageheart says...

As long as the protagonist isn't a complete jerk, I'll end up loving them! Kindness is a must, and humor is something I really like. I love flawed characters just as much as the next reader. I love when protagonists represent groups typically not represented in media, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community. But I think one of my major things that I look for in a protagonist is their uniqueness; basically I want a human character. I want someone who I can relate to.

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Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:39 am
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LukeStarkiller says...

Corny as it sounds, every story is different, but the one trait (if you could call it that) that never fails is building a character that is different from and/or at odds with the supporting characters. Not only does this create instant conflict; it also gives a justification for selecting the main character. Everyone does it: Luke Skywalker is young and inexperienced, Woody, unlike all the other toys, resents Buzz's rise to popularity, Harry Potter was literally chosen by a prophecy, which throughout the series isolates him from his peers because of his burden.

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Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:55 pm
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MeisterChan says...

Sometimes, it depends on the setting. I try to not stick towards one type of personality, but I always end up doing just that anyway.

So, here's my answer:

I love a main character that has a strong persona - emotionally and physically. I find it admirable when a main character can hold their own, but still accept the help of comrades. I also admire when they have a strong hold over their emotions. I have one slight exception to that, however, I prefer when we get to see their progression of emotions; for instance, they begin at a point where they're too weak and are too emotional but as the story progresses they become stronger and more in control of those emotions.

I also love when a main character has a weak point (family), it's a major cliche in some cases but I love the reality of it. Family can be a thing we cherish and so, it makes it a perfect target.

One of the characters that fills in those requirements is Katniss Everdean from The Hunger Games Series, she's has to be one of my favourite main characters from all the books I've read so far <3

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Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:10 pm
ShadowPrincess16 says...

My tastes tend to differ depending on the setting. One thing is universal, though, and that's characters with a tragic backstory. I love it when a character has a dark past.

Of course, I also like heavily flawed characters. Severus Snape is still one of my favorites in this regard. Not all of my favorite characters are necessarily good people. In fact, sometimes they really aren't. (I'm looking at you, Sebastien Morgenstern.)

I write LGBT fantasy romance generally geared towards Young Adult/New Adult and I tend to like characters that are a bit closed off at first because of their sexuality. One of the only projects I've ever done that doesn't have a fantasy element is a good example of this.
“wanting what you could not have led to misery and madness”
― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:14 pm
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Kazumi says...

For me it depends on the genre I'm reading. The character should fulfill the purpose of the story and the genre the story is under.

If romcom, then the character should be someone likable as a human being. I mean, why root for someone who's an a-hole?

If it's something sad, it's alright if they aren't likable. Sometimes you're not meant to like the character. However, they have to be naturalistic and free of contrivances to maintain the sad mood of the story

If horror, it doesn't matter if they feel human or are likable. They're mostly vehicles that explore/are victims of the horrors of the story. However, character-driven horror is effective too, because the character's being well-rounded can allow the horror story to touch the viewers on a more personal level.

If the story is aimed towards a teenage audience, then the character should be in a position where they can speak to its audience on personal level. Because you know, being a teen is rough and we gotta give them a little bit of inspiration. So that's why YA novels' protagonists are usually teens.

If it's social critique, then the character should be in a position to explore the social landscape of the aspect of society that the story is critiquing. We can't have a CEO of a multibillion company main character in a story where we critique internet culture. Our main character can't be a reclusive teenager in a story where we call out abuse in the workplace.

If it's romance of any kind, these characters should be dynamic, meaning they change as people. Also, they should be naturalistic and nuanced as humans so that we the viewers may be emotionally invested in them all throughout the story.

To me, the characters' qualities or beliefs don't matter if I were to look at them as characters. So long as they fulfill the purpose of the story by doing their job as a punto de vista in the world of the story or as "humans" that we can invest ourselves into, then they are already very good main characters. That's what I look for in main characters

Yeah, I have a very dull and objective personal preference, I know.

As a reader, I personally like characters who have unique views of the world. Not only do they come off as very cool and special at times, they can create some very interesting conflicts. With a character like that there is bound to be an ideological conflict in the story, and when the two sides clash, it can be very endearing and mind-stimulating. These conflicts can explore the two conflicting ideologies, exposing the merits and flaws of both sides. In the process, the conflicts created by these characters can go as far to explore and critique other concepts, like the society we live in right now. But at the end of each conflict, each character that holds these ideologies becomes more and more human in the readers' eyes, making them more endearing to read. also I am a nerd for social studies. fite me
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 4:59 pm
JuliasSneezer says...

For me, I like characters that break the molds.

I like the sweet girls who still know how to fight. I like the men who aren't afraid to be softer and compassionate. I like characters of all sorts of races and sexualities other than the typical types.

One of my favorite types, though, are the kinds with the iron wills. The ones that no matter what, will stick to their opinions and stick up for them, even if they'll have to pay a price later. A good rule of thumb is to make a protagonist that everyone would want to be, in my opinion.
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