The Weak Main Character

I admitted recently that one of my greatest struggles with my writing is the concept of “voice”. Another thing that trips me up is the main character. A friend of mine used to cringe every time I sent her something to read over because she already knew what her first critique had to be: I don’t like your main character. She’s too weak/whiny/lame/etc. But your secondary character is pretty cool. In one story, I had two main characters, each with her own sidekick, and both sidekicks were more interesting to readers than the two main character. Double failure, and proof that this is really a pervasive problem for me.

When the main character is supposed to be the reason the reader gets interested, is the filter for the events of the story, being accidentally unlikable is a problem. It’s an even bigger one when the character in the sidekick role is more interesting. I’ve taken to calling this “Watson Syndrome” after Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ faithful chronicler (not to be confused with the disturbing skin condition of the same name). My main characters have a bad habit of observing and commenting on the story playing out in front of them rather than being fully integrated into the story.

And I have really mastered the art of finding different ways to have a character in this position.

I’ve come to realize part of my problem is that I don’t have a strong grasp on character development to begin with, so at least I have a starting place, but it’s going to be interesting trying to unlearn a behavior that seems to have permeated most of my writing career.

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