Saturday, 20 July 2013

Keeping Your MC at the Forefront of Your Story


It sounds like an easy enough thing to do because a writer works with their main character continually through most of your story, but there are moments when some writers lose focus, or they veer off the main plot path, and then the protagonist becomes overshadowed by other characters.
This is quite a common occurrence, and is most prevalent in new writers who have not yet mastered writing strategies and techniques, but I’ve also seen established and experienced writers fall prey to it, too.
It happens to most of us at some point because it’s very easy to zoom through the story while it’s fresh in our minds.  Writers love to ‘go with the flow’, to follow different plot twists and so on, and meander from the main path, and sometimes they become too engrossed in their characters to notice that the main character has slipped into the background.  It’s not until they read through the story that they become aware that something isn’t quite right.

Of course, much of what is written in the first draft will be edited anyway, but there are several ways to maintain the focus on your main character during this process in order to keep them at the forefront of your story.
Ways to keep focused on your MC
Remember that your main character is the focus of the story.  It is their story and should always remain so.

While every story has a villain in some form or another – the antagonist – you should never let this character eclipse your main character in any way. This is quite common, and happens without the reader realising it. They don’t realise that many of the scenes concentrate too much on that character rather than the hero.
Similarly, never allow secondary characters to grow enough to overshadow your main character. This could result in the story shifting emphasis and thus becoming unbalanced.  Make sure your main character has the most scenes – he or she is the star of the show, so to speak.

Keep a careful eye on the balance of scenes that are shared by your characters.  If your secondary characters have more scenes, then there is a problem.  The main character always has the most scenes; they are the most important person in the story.
Is the story plot driven or character driven?  If it’s plot driven, make sure there is enough emphasis on your main character so that they don’t become swallowed by too many themes, plot twists and sub plots.  Characterisation can often fall victim to plot driven stories, and the same is true for weak main characters in character driven stories.

Ensure that the events in the story are seen from your main character’s point of view wherever possible. (More on this next week). It’s easy to let secondary characters steal a scene from your main character without you realising, and too many writers do this simply because it can be difficult to spot within the narrative.
Are there too many irrelevant scenes within the narrative?  These kinds of scenes are what we might call ‘fillers’ or ‘padding’ scenes.  They have no real importance, they don’t really tell us much, and they don’t move the story forward. 

Writers use them to fill white space and plump up the story, but too many of these scenes have a tendency to strangle the main plot and therefore overshadow the main character.  Eventually the main character becomes lost in way too many insignificant, peripheral scenes.  This means the importance of your protagonist within the story arc is lost.
Every scene should move the story forward, it should be significant to the story arc and it should impart necessary information.

Lastly, try using more inner thoughts and insights from your main character.  This tends to bring the focus back to the protagonist and also creates immediacy with the reader.
No writer is perfect, of course.  We all slip up from time to time and sometimes we lose focus of the things that matter in a story. 

Your main character is the driving force within your story, so it’s important to make sure that they remain the key focus, that they are always telling their story.

Next week:  How to keep MC viewpoint within scenes.
 

2 comments:

  1. Hi AJ. I appreciate the things you're saying in this blog. I'm new to writing, sort of, and I'm writing for fun. I come from theatre land, where there is more often than not a main character, but ensemble pieces do exist. I have several characters and I've never really intended to establish a main character. I'm sure one will end up getting more screen time in the end, but it's unintentional. I would like your take on that. Is that "ok?"

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    1. Hi Grantley,

      Interesting question.

      Theatre and fiction are separate in many ways, and it is true that there are not always clear main characters in theatre, but if you are writing fiction, you MUST have a main character, otherwise the story will fail.

      The reason it will fail is because you are not telling anyone's story, and if you are not telling that character's story, then there is no story. There's not getting away from it. If you were writing a play, it would be different, because several character stories are interwoven and do overlap - but this is because a play is a visual, multidimensional medium. Fiction doesn't have that luxury.

      Imagine a story with eight characters, all trapped in a cave. You could write from each character viewpoint, but without a main character to care about, the reader won't give a hoot who lives or dies, because not having a character to care about means the reader will get bored.

      I would strongly advise bringing a main character to the fore. It will help your writing in the long run.

      Hope all that makes sense.

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