1. Ghosts in Latin
    Offline

    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    2

    Main Characters need not be extraordinary.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ghosts in Latin, Mar 11, 2009.

    I take pride in my characters, so much that I recently came to realize a problem I had. I willed all of my main characters, or even significant characters, to be extraordinary. This is not, in itself, a bad thing; there are many successful, and entertaining stories where every character can be seen as phenominal in one way or another, but it is something that unecessarily limits one's options.

    I've been fiddling with a new plot, and I had just realized that it calls for the character to be a normal person (relatively, at the least). Now, to me, this wasn't so much difficult to do as much as it was rare.

    So, in short, take a step back and make sure you're not limiting yourself when it comes to character traits.

    I was.
     
  2. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Realistic fiction is full of non-extraordinary characters because the story is focus more on the psychological and more every-day conflict we experience in life.
     
  3. jack_is_cool
    Offline

    jack_is_cool Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2009
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    THANK YOU for raising this! The characters in the novel I'm trying to write just now are exceptionally normal. I'm glad I read this thread, it feels like an endorsement. I wasn't sure if people would be able to appreciate realistical, unexceptional characters.

    Infact, if you ever have time, I'd really, really, really appreciate if you could review or just give me your opinion on my text in the novels forum. You seem to be aiming more in the direction I'm heading compared to most other novels in that forum. They tend to be sci-fi or fantasy.
     
  4. Penny Dreadful
    Offline

    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    108
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    deep south
    This is a funny subject for me since most of my characters are far from extraordinary. The lead in my main novel (at the moment) is downright pathetic. Heck, the heroine of the story is unattractive and mostly powerless in a world where magic exists and times are dangerous. My lead grows a bit of a backbone, but he doesn't become more powerful, he doesn't single-handedly save the day, and he definitely doesn't get the girl. Female lead doesn't become beautiful, find some mystical all-powerful artifact, or have a sweet or otherwise winning personality to charm the pants off men.

    As long as character mature and/or grow and/or change over the course of a story, I'm not sure it matters how all-mighty they are.
     
  5. St Saint
    Offline

    St Saint Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2009
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Essex
    Usually my main characters aren't extraordinary so much as 'unfortunate', usually being orphans or poor, to help estabilish an immediate sympathy with the reader, although when I do have a 'special' person, i'll try to downplay it to allow the character to grow since being all-powerful can really stunt a character's growth, since they will then overcome all obstacles, leading to no conflict to fuel the reader to read on. If your character wasn't born extraordinary, make sure to show a flashback of before they were special.
     
  6. Atari
    Offline

    Atari Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2009
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Louisiana
    I have read enough stories with ordinary characters to know that you do NOT need an extraordinary character to have a good story. . . but it does not hurt.

    That is, I have never read a story with an incredible character and thought, "Blast! This story would be so much more entertaining if the main character was just some poor schmuck with no powers or particularly great strength of character."
     
  7. Cheeno
    Offline

    Cheeno Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2008
    Messages:
    594
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Ireland
    I don't believe 'extraordinary' has to mean someone with 'powers'. I see it more as a character who's objectives or activities determine that whatever happens to them on their journey will be exciting, or out of the ordinary, enough to keep the contract between the reader and the writer intact. Seriously, if nothing of consequence happens, what's the point? Where's the journey? In my opinion, evolution of character is essential to a story's success, and without conflict, which takes us out of the ordinary, there can be no movement or change. Okay, it's probably a relative term but, ordinary is boring.
     
  8. Dcoin
    Offline

    Dcoin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    NYC
    I would agree, characters do not have to be extraordinary.

    However, characters should do extraordinary things.
     
  9. RomanticRose
    Offline

    RomanticRose Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Messages:
    491
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Mexico
    None of my main characters are extraordinary. They are average people who are thrust by a sadistic author (insert maniacal giggle here) into circumstances that force them to find the strength (or not find it) they don't think they have.
     
  10. KP Williams
    Offline

    KP Williams Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2007
    Messages:
    608
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    My place
    Many of my character are extraordinary because they're literally not human. They're a species I made up. And yeah, the story does call for them to make normal people look as fragile as eggs. It's hard to explain, but I simply wouldn't know how to deal with ordinary main characters in this plot. It would have to be way too political for me to handle.

    In my other story, though, the main character is the only truly normal person in sight. :p
     
  11. g1ng3rsnap9ed
    Offline

    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2009
    Messages:
    204
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    A small town called Pox...
    I do not have this problem because it has always been a peeve of mine when reading novels or watching films. I try my best to make my human characters as human as possible by giving them acne, being shy, sometimes cracking their wrists, etc.
     
  12. Xeno
    Offline

    Xeno Mad and Bitey Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2008
    Messages:
    4,777
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Stratford-upon-Avon, England
    I understand this. My MC is called John, who's the captain of a ship, not very special.

    My supporting is called Isaac, and he's pretty much invincible. He's a cyborg, can interface with machines, can vent electricity through his hands and has a HUD in his head.

    Oh, yeah. And he's bulletproof, can lift tonnes with one hand, can jump almost a hundred feet into the air and can survive in a total vacuum.

    So, yeah MC's not so special.
     
  13. Ghosts in Latin
    Offline

    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    2
    Ah! I'm glad this thread urged so many responses!

    But it seems like my problem wasn't common. Haha.
     
  14. B-Gas
    Offline

    B-Gas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2007
    Messages:
    330
    Likes Received:
    14
    Well, just to spark some debate, I disagree.

    Main characters need to be exceptional. They need to be different. You can't have a story about a redshirt; you can't have a story about Spartan #213. The story won't be about them. It'll be about whoever leads them, whoever makes decisions, whoever goes off on their own and fights the good fight. If Spartan #213 goes against orders, charges into the centre of the fight- or goes against orders and runs- then he'll make a good lead.

    That's not to say they have to be powerful, or change people's lives. They don't have to be better than the other characters in any measurable respect. They just have to be unique within the context of the story. A nuclear physicist in a lab full of nuclear physicists may not seem exceptional, but if he's the one that makes the discovery that changes everything, then he is. Even if it's by accident; even if it doesn't matter in the end. They did something. They changed things. That makes them special.
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    B-Gas, I'll take the opposing position. If the main character is not extraordinary, the emphasis moves instead to the events he or she is impacted by. That may indeed be the author's purpose.

    The writing will have to be more skillful to reatin the reader's interest, but I do believe it is possible to write a good story about an ordinary person. The example that leaps to my mind is Death of a Salesman.
     
  16. B-Gas
    Offline

    B-Gas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2007
    Messages:
    330
    Likes Received:
    14
    You have a good point. The events may be the focus. However, they will always be filtered through the human element of the main character. And there is the extraordinary quality. Since I have not read Death of a Salesman, I don't know the reference you're making.

    I think we need to define terms. I'm taking "extraordinary" as being "different from the story's version of 'masses.'" Thus, in a hypothetical war story, a specific sniper with an important task, which is the focus of the novel, is extraordinary- even if he has no more ability than most snipers- because the 'masses' are infantrymen or, within his circle, snipers on less plot-important tasks. He fits the definition because, in the context of the story, this specific sniper is more important than any of the other snipers.

    If that makes sense. Basically, "extraordinary" means "not part of the faceless mass." Taking a recent film example, War of the Worlds (the Spielberg one), the main character is extraordinary because he goes against the crowd, he uses more of his intuition than most people, he struggles toward a very specific goal- re-unite his family- while most people simply run and attempt to survive. He is human, he has no more control over the situation than any of the faceless multitudes, and yet under my definition he is extraordinary.

    Perhaps I believe that main characters must be extraordinary because of my unusually broad definition of the term. And if that is the case, I concede.
     
  17. ArticulatedInsanity
    Offline

    ArticulatedInsanity New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2009
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    This is how I see it. Characters can be extraordinary in the sense that they are well-developed, well thought out etc. etc. They don't have to be perfect in character traits to be extraordinary. What makes a character extraordinary is their humanity; this meaning, their faults, strengths, weaknesses and what not. Ideas of conformity and rebellion and how these characters deal with situations. Overall, a character would seem extraordinary to one because their traits are something that humanity can relate to.
     
  18. ArticulatedInsanity
    Offline

    ArticulatedInsanity New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2009
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    The events that the main character is affected by are imperative to the molding of their characterization. The character at the beginning of the work is set forth by the author with certain traits. These character traits can be changed over the course of the work because of the events they are affected by or transpire in the world around them. Interesting twists and turns in characterization as a result of the premise of the novel are techniques that engage the reader and keep them on their feet wanting to read more.
     
  19. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Although I favor dynamic characters who are shaped by the events of the story, you CAN have characters untouched by events. A character can, for example, be the catalyst for events, without being touched by them.

    By analogy, consider the little old lady driving down the freeway at ten MPH below the speed limit, changing lanes when it suits her. Cars swerve to avoid her, resulting in multi-car collisions aqnd grave inhuries, while she tsk-tsks at the awful drivers and manages to not get caught in any of teh accidents herself.

    This kind of character works well in comedy, but need not be limited to it.

    In fact, I think it would be a great theme idea for one of our weekly writing contests,
     
  20. ArticulatedInsanity
    Offline

    ArticulatedInsanity New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2009
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    " 'Although I favor dynamic characters who are shaped by the events of the story, you CAN have characters untouched by events. A character can, for example, be the catalyst for events, without being touched by them.' "


    - I agree with you. With changing attributes comes a more gripping tale. I feel that dynamic characters give a certain flow to the story not present with catalyst characters who remain stationary with their traits, unaffected by events.
     
  21. hannahmae
    Offline

    hannahmae New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    I like the idea of completely normal people. But I find them difficult to write. My lead also ends up being "borderline-sue" on the Mary-Sue test. I wish there was a list of normal human features one can attach to a character. I've compiled a list of flaws from the nanowrimo forums, but they are only so helpful.

    So I guess what I am saying that theoretically, a completely normal character would be nice. But it actuality is a lot more difficult to achieve. Just like communism in theory is fantastic. Reality makes more difficult.

    Even the most tortured, messed up, angsty character are somewhat extraordinary. The character might be deeply flawed, but that doesn't make then "normal."

    That being said, I don't make all my characters mary sues.... I guess I just have to struggle a lot make sure they aren't.
     
  22. KP Williams
    Offline

    KP Williams Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2007
    Messages:
    608
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    My place
    Hm. I think normal people are boring and that communism is a horrible idea, period. If the character is truly normal, then there probably isn't so much about them that I would find interesting. My mindset is that I get more than enough of normal people in the real world. And communism gives little incentive to do your best, since you're constantly being given the same reward as everyone else in a field of work that you probably didn't get to choose. For a start.

    We are opposites. I have found my arch-nemesis. :D
     
  23. pacmansays
    Offline

    pacmansays Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2009
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    0
    lol those two beliefs actually go well together
     
  24. Aeixious
    Offline

    Aeixious Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2009
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    New York, New York
    You do not need an extraordinary main character. That works on both sides of the spectrum, someone who fails at everything attempted and someone who succeeds at everything attempted will have equally boring stories. But you cannot have a completely normal character, because a completely normal person does not exist. And this person is normal compared to whom?

    In my opinion, it is not should you have a normal character, but how far should the character depart from normal? A character who picks his nose and a character who flails at anyone she sees wearing a red shirt with green lettering and rainbow glitter can both be considered to be somewhat normal, and somewhat strange.

    And there are many different shades or normal. Normal to someone from the United States is different to someone who lives in India.

    To sum up, I think that if any main character appears 'normal' or 'bland' than you are not giving enough information about that character.
     
  25. CRISTIANO7
    Offline

    CRISTIANO7 New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2009
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Missouri, USA
    I agree. I've enjoyed reading many fascinating novels about the most normal characters possible. I think that the circumstances, and the events taking place, have to be at least moderately extraordinary, though. There are exceptions, of course, there are to everything, but that's where I stand.

    Personally, though I do love books about characters such as Jason Bourne, and other "extraordinary" characters, I think it's very hard to beat a well written story about a normal character thrust into the most abnormal of circumstances.
     

Share This Page