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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pet Peeve: Everyone Knows It's the Main Character

I has posted that I was going to continue my pet peeves, because I had a new batch to share. Today's pet peeve is when everyone in a story knows they're dealing with a main character, and treats him or her accordingly.

Basically, this occurs when there's a standard, with a set of consequences for not meeting that standard. The main character is immune to those consequences, because to hold him or her to the same standard would ruin the plot or the character.

I'm not talking about Mary Sues, because that's a whole other can of worms. I think the term is overused to describe a character someone doesn't like, and that it's okay for the plot and other characters to revolve around one central character.

What I'm talking about is when the main character is held to a different standard. For instance, a male character might lose his temper and act out violently toward the female love interest. If she forgives him, I need to have seen some past behavior that shows she forgives easily. If she left her last boyfriend because he put a hole in the wall, I'm going to be skeptical.

What made this pet peeve really stand out for me was when villains kill minor characters for being less of a thorn in their side than the main characters. One minor character crosses the bad guy's path, and finds himself turned to pink mist. But then the main character actively gets in the villain's way, and the villain chuckles at the main character's audacity and asks the main character to join him in his bid to take over the world. Unless that bad guy has been established as respecting courage, I'm going to raise an eyebrow at his change of heart.

What bothers me about this is that it's lazy writing. The hero could be held to the same standard as minor characters. He or she could shine by getting out of a tight spot, showing resourcefulness and courage. Instead, that character is handed a solution by a writer or writers who would rather make an inconsistent villain, or selectively enforce the rules of the world.

The way you avoid this, as a writer, is to closely look at your conflicts within your book. Are they challenging? Has another character in the book experienced something similar? How did it end for that other character? If it's different for your hero, is it because of your hero's resources, or because you made it easier for your main character?

Don't be afraid to challenge characters. It's why readers love a good hero: because he or she overcomes.