New writers tend to be afraid to give their protagonists any traits or characteristics that might cause a negative reaction in a reader or viewer.  Often, there’s a mindset that the main character has to be a clean-cut, morally righteous, and near-perfect person for them to qualify as an identifiable hero.

The result is an even-keel, conflict-free character who does all they can not to provoke, upset, or even bother anyone else who crosses their path, including the potential antagonist of the story.

Consequently, the audience often finds these characters uninteresting and moves on to stories with more compelling characters.

Why doesn’t a character like this work?  Because there’s nothing remotely empathetic, sympathetic, or identifiable in this type of character for the viewer or reader to connect with.  And that’s a big problem.

Real people embody a host of positive and negative traits, emotions, thoughts, and responses, which means it’s okay for the main character in a fictional story also to have these things.  It doesn’t make the protagonist a bad person if they get mad about something, disagree with what another character does, or decide to do something in their best interest, even if it might hurt another character’s feelings.  These types of actions make them real and relatable, and that’s exactly what you want in a main character.

Let’s take a character like Lucy in the rom-com, While You Were Sleeping.  She’s a seemingly nice, regular, friendly woman whose lie to the hospital staff and family of her dream man whom she saves from getting hit by a train is the catalyst for the entire story.  

Does her lie make her a bad person and therefore unworthy of being the film’s protagonist?  No.  It makes her more human to the audience.  It’s a little white lie that spirals out of control, and we’re there with her to watch as there are eventual consequences for her dishonest actions.

The same can be said for films with antiheroes as main characters.  They aren’t the best people, but they are intriguing and interesting to watch as the story unfolds.

Think about your favorite film, TV, or book characters.  Are any of them “perfect,” or do they have faults and imperfections that endear you to them?  

And when you sit down to write, think about ways to add a little spice to your main character to make them less perfect and more human.

Join me next time as we explore character flaws and negative traits in more detail!

See you next time!

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