When we invite readers into the worlds of our creation, we want them to become so engaged that they want nothing more but to keep turning page after page to see what happens next.
For that to happen, the main characters in our stories need to be realistic and relatable.
How can we achieve that?
There are many ways to accomplish this, but today we'll focus on two.
Write a backstory that's for your eyes only
One great way to create an engaging and realistic main character is to first of all, get to know them really well. I usually do this by creating a document that's separate from my manuscript and outline and is simply devoted to the main character's background. It involves details regarding:
And as a side note, I don't usually do this until after I've completed the first draft of my manuscript. I choose to do this because if I interrupt the writing of my first draft to do this, I'll become hyper-focused on the character's backstory and the manuscript will be left, untouched.
So, I prefer to get the first draft done, and then create the MC's backstory before jumping into edits of that manuscript. The fleshed out backstory will help me to edit the MC's reactions and behavior appropriately as I comb through the manuscript for aspects that need to be refined, completely rewritten, deleted, or added.
There may be temptation to add a lot of the backstory to the manuscript itself, but I'd advise against that as it can become a bit too much and weigh your book down with TMI. That's why I create a separate document for the MC's background and just keep it for myself as a reference guide.
Clarify and highlight the main character's motivation
The second step to ensuring that a main character is realistic and relatable is to highlight what they want.
When readers know exactly what a main character wants, this increases the reader's desire to stay with the story and find out whether or not the main character eventually gets what they want.
And, when it comes to highlighting the MC's motivation, sometimes we think we're highlighting it or that it's obvious to readers when in reality, their utmost goal is hidden behind lots of twists and turns within the plot. There's nothing wrong with twists and turns in a plot- in fact that's a very good thing!
But we writers need to make sure that the MC's motivation doesn't get lost amid the adventure.
How do we do this?
Well-known screenwriter, Shonda Rhimes, has a great trick at doing this.
In the thick of action, she always, always, always adds a scene in which one character approaches the MC and demands, "What do you want? Why are you doing this? What is it that you want?"
And then, there is a beautiful moment where the MC flat out says what their motivation is.
Sometimes they scream it in frustration, sometimes they say it while crying, or sometimes they whisper it.
But it's always a dramatic moment that pulls the viewer in and reminds them who this MC is at their very core and what it is that they ultimately want.
We fiction writers would do well to imitate this excellent writing habit of Ms. Rhimes' as we craft our own novels.
I hope those two writing tips come in handy and if you have any other suggestions on creating realistic and relatable main characters, please feel free to share in the comments section below!