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Zee

Main Character Issues

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So, what constitutes a "main character" in a story? I thought the character whose point of view the story is told from is by default the main character, but if this is not the case, what are the other requirements? 


My current story has been diagnosed with the potentially fatal condition of having no main character (among other serious problems) but I imagine if I can get this sorted, some of the other issues may naturally fall into place.

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One definition I've heard is that the main character is the one (or ones) through whom the reader experiences the story, while the protagonist is the central character, the one who the story is about, or who makes the story happen. They are usually the same person, but not always. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is the main character, but Atticus is the protagonist.

 

Is your problem an unclear main characater or an unclear protagonist?

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Good question. I am new to this game, so I honestly don't know. 

As it stands, I have the story in four parts from the point of view of three people (the same person does the first and last section) and this person should then be the protagonist, I think. 

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12 minutes ago, Zee said:

As it stands, I have the story in four parts from the point of view of three people

Libbie Hawker (author of Take Off Your Pants) has a useful formula which might help you figure out who your protagonist is. She says that every story has a character who wants something, but something's in his way. He must struggle against the opposing force to get what he wants. Which of your characters can you fit most comfortably in that formula? Often, you can do this for more than one of them, but it should come more naturally for one of them.

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In the famous words of Jane Friedman, "What does your character want, why does she want it, what keeps her from getting it?"

 

She's actually talking about writing a query letter there; however, you're going to have to figure out how to write one of those or a story blurb for your story eventually, so have at it. Architect this story from the end, and work your way back. Who is the character you can answer those questions for?

 

He/she is your protagonist, even if the others are main characters too. Hermione and Ron are main characters with Harry Potter, but Harry Potter is the protagonist.

 

And do notice, those books aren't in Harry's POV. Also, Nick is not Jay Gatsby, however, he is the POV character telling The Great Gatsby. And, Ishmael is not the protagonist in Moby Dick.

 

Many stories feature the protagonist as the one telling the story, but not all. 

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So it sounds like perhaps I should begin by clarifying the problem, and the character may be stronger after that.

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8 hours ago, Zee said:

So it sounds like perhaps I should begin by clarifying the problem, and the character may be stronger after that.

Sounds like a plan. Since you're new to this, I'd really recommend your main character be the protagonist as well. I always think about the protagonist as the "Answer" to the problem. While other main or secondary characters may have "answers" and help, the protagonist has The Answer. The problem is not solved without the protagonist.

 

I'll use the original Star Wars movie as an example because I'm a nerd. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo are all main characters. Leia and Han contribute hugely to the plot, but in the end their efforts either solve B plot conflicts or assist Luke Skywalker in solving the A Plot conflict. Luke is the solver of the A Plot conflict. Therefore, Luke is the main character. He is also, as @EBraten noted, the person who the audience experiences the story through - another identifier of the protagonist. 

Edited by PenName
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