Grumble: Main Character Disease—Rules need not apply

We’ve all read this a million times, right?

When a race is extinct or hasn’t been heard from in years…

When a grandmaster of unrivalled skill has sworn to take no more apprentices…

When the beautiful princess has refused all suitors…

When no one can battle the champion and live…

When a fearsome beast cannot be tricked or avoided…

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So fearsome!

You know what’s going to happen next.

It’s all about managing expectations, and at this point¹ you’re writing for people that have read that story before. It’s not new. It’s not interesting. If done well, it can be satisfying, but is the effort really worth the risk of potentially boring your readers to tears, or worse—making them abandon your book/series for something more original?

Your heroine doesn’t have to be the fairest of them all. She can still marry the royal.

Your hero doesn’t need to seduce every woman he comes across. He can still charm his way through obstacles.

You don’t have to write the biggest, evilest monsters and the shiniest, most courageous heroes. Just get the job done!

Flawed narrators are far easier to relate to and thus empathise with.

Give me nuance! Give me awkwardness! Give me your hero meeting their idol and not measuring up! Give me the protagonist saving the world and getting arrested for trespassing! They know she just saved the world, but damnit, rules are rules.

Let go of the idea that your hero has to be fated and superior, even at the end of their character arc! Have heroes that are mediocre in ways their society deems impressive, but are impressive in other ways! Everyone likes the underdog, right?

When you make the hero the professional in a situation, then try and make a villain of appropriate power to seem like a real threat, you’re essentially making the whole society the hero comes from into underdogs (because the hero is the most capable, and still doesn’t have a prayer). That’s where your villain can seem cheesy and overblown, or your final battle (with the hero inevitably triumphing) can seem hollow, or overly convenient.

Chosen ones are hard to do well, so if it’s not important to your story—feel free to have your hero, rather than being the chosen one,  be the convenient one. The one that’s there, and half-capable, and motivated in a unique and interesting way!²  If a police officer foils a crime, they’re just doing their job. If a civilian foils a crime, we call them heroes.

I’m not telling you your hero has to be a civilian/amateur. This can get old (especially in a series). If the most untrained person in the world keeps tripping over crimes they’re going to learn something. But make sure there’s something about the complications in your plot that your hero struggles with. If they’re used to violence, give them interpersonal complications. If they’re used to the city, make them explore the wilderness. If they’re used to relying on gadgets, take them away.

If your hero doesn’t struggle, they won’t grow. And without growth, you’re just writing a sitcom, where at the end of the episode everything ends up the same way, and nothing matters. If you want your story to matter to people, it has to matter to (at the very least) the fictional people in the world you made.

 

¹Assuming you’re writing for adults

²Prophecies do not count

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