Keep Your Main Character Front and Centre
Do you keep the spotlight on your protagonist?
One of the keys to good storytelling is to ensure your main character is front and centre – he or she is the star of your story, so whatever happens, that person should be the main focus of the story, even if they’re not in some of the scenes or chapters. The story must always revolve around this character.
It’s common, however, for writers to lose sight of the main character. That’s because some scenes swallow them, or they’re overshadowed by other characters. I recently edited a story where the main character vanished after the first two chapters and didn’t re-appear until midway through the story. In that time, other characters had taken over the story and had grown more prominent. This meant the main character had inadvertently slipped into the background and had almost become forgotten.
The spotlight had shifted.
When that happens, the main character stops being a main character and they become a secondary character. Then whose story would you be telling?
That’s why it’s so important to keep your main character at the forefront of the story, wherever possible. You’re telling their story, mostly from their perspective, and that means they need to be present in the majority of the scenes/chapters. That’s especially true for character driven stories.
Multiple character viewpoints are fine, but the main thing is to ensure the other characters don’t take over, and the main character doesn’t slip from the limelight. That’s why the main character should be part of the story 70% of the time, while other characters take up 30%. Keep that ratio in mind when redrafting – if the main character doesn’t appear to be at the forefront as much as you thought, redress the balance.
There are a few ways to ensure your main character remains front and centre within your story:
Know Your Chapters
If you’ve planned your story, you’ll have made a brief chapter outline that not only plots the course of the story, but also gives an idea of which characters appear in which chapter. It then becomes much easier to plan and write scenes around the characters that matter most. This is why planning makes the writing process much easier.
In 3rd person, most of the events in the story will take place from your main character’s point of view. (Of course, in 1st person, the entire story is from the main character’s viewpoint). If using multiple POV, the viewpoint will change to other characters in some scenes, but just remember the 70/30 ratio and that will keep your main character in the spotlight for most of the scenes and chapters.
Control Secondary Characters
Don’t let your secondary characters, including the antagonist, become dominant, otherwise this could interfere with the story. Writers sometimes let other characters take over, without realising, by giving them more action and dialogue within scenes. The more stuff you give a character, the more they do, which increases their prominence, so this kind of imbalance of characters is easily done. The writing process can, for some, be non-linear, while some writers don’t write their stories chronologically, which means that some of the secondary characters sometimes seem to grow more important than the main character.
The way around this is to keep an eye on the balance of scenes shared by your characters. If you notice that your secondary characters somehow end up in more scenes than the main character, then this can be easily amended during the redraft stage.
As already mentioned, the 70/30 ratio is useful when it comes to looking at the balance of character versus scenes/chapters. It’s not a rule set in stone. It’s simply a guideline to help writers keep the main character in at least 70% of the scenes/chapters, while the other characters make up 30%. It can be 60/40. It can be 80/20, as long as the main character has the lion’s share and remains the focus of story.
Another good way to focus the spotlight on your main character is to use more inner thoughts. This will bring the main character into focus and it also creates a connection with the reader. Letting the reader in on what your character is thinking and feeling is a great way to connect with the reader – known as immediacy – and it helps to keep your main character front and centre.
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, even when they may not be in some scenes. Let their presence be felt. Always try to keep your protagonist front and centre.