In defense of Main Characters

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Something that seems to be brewing among writers these days is a resistance to having a main character (or ‘MC’ if you will). I suspect this is in part due to the massive success of Game of Thrones as a television series, throwing epic fantasy into the limelight. Epic fantasy being of course a genre known for having multiple characters, sometimes even multiple MCs.

Now I’m not normally a stickler for rules (who am I kidding), I enjoy questioning rules but I’ve come to the conclusion that having an MC is 9/10 the way to go because:

The essence of a story is a persons journey

Sure it can also be about the white-walker zombie apocalypse, WWII, assassinations, but the backbone of a good story is the journey of a person from point A to point B. Trying to tell several people’s story at once quantitatively isn’t as compelling. Don’t get me wrong you still have secondary characters going about their journeys but the story isn’t framed on their trajectories and if you try to it’s like this: When a I was a teenager I was privileged to join my friends’ rock band even though I had no idea what I was doing. Because 3/4 young men’s goals were to be seen as a good (singer, bass, guitar) player whenever we tried to write music we all just tried to do awesome stuff at once. Regardless of anyone individual brilliance the effect was one of mayhem and generally bad music. It would have been more powerful to have one person show-off at a time and the others to support.

To further the music analogy a classical piece of music is designed around the initial establishment of a key and where the music develops that throughout the piece until resolving the piece on a final chord. While many pieces of music are complex, they always begin and resolve somewhere, like our character traveling from A to B, it would be a very experimental piece of music (at best) or a disaster (at worst) to attempt to have multiple established keys within one piece without 1 overarching progression.

Epic fantasy I believe sometimes gets away with multiple characters, because there is some tension tied to something above mere characters, usually a world ending threat and fantasy novels are a rare exception where we let this overrule our concerns for any individual (in my humble opinion anyway)

Also television series can do the multi-character thing because visually and charisma-wise its easier to attach to actors playing a role PLUS the episodic nature of television allows for the lens to be focused on different characters in different episodes (you’ll often see a series with multiple characters have each episode with a specific character the focus making the story of that episode about them)

I wanted to talk longer of the subject but I hear the na, na, na, na of a young 20 month old boy so I best be serving breakfast.

 

Comments are fun – what are your thoughts on main characters, do you need 1 MC or is it OK to spread it out?

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3 thoughts on “In defense of Main Characters

  1. Definitely 1 MC. I admire (and envy) the writers who can write with 2 MCs and craft their stories flawlessly, but that takes skill and at times, rule breaking (I’m a stickler for rules). I enjoyed reading your post. Trade comments?

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  2. I feel that in the modern market (where the urge is to appeal as much as possible to everyone), having multiple MC’s is an insurance policy against people not relating to or caring about the MC.

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