1. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    Teen MC: Having a hard time falling in love with him

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Gholin, Jan 18, 2011.

    Hi all.

    I am writing a fantasy novel that starts with a teenage MC in school. He is thrust into an adventure in an Arabian Nights-style dream world after about 5 chapters, but a part of that dream world periodically disturbs his ordinary world during the first five chapters and keep you wondering what is going on. He's lost his father, but finds him in the dream world stuck and needing help. In fact the whole reason the dream world is in peril is because of his father's mistakes. So, that's a bit of backstory for you to understand my struggle.

    The problem I am having with this story is that all my characters except my MC seem interesting and fun; unique in their own way. I absolutely love the story and the characters, but I am having a hard time not being trapped into making a similar teenager to all the other ones I read about (Potter, Percy Jackson, etc). Being past my teenage years by some amount, I've asked a few what teenagers worry about today and they say careers, but that doesn't really play well into what I'm trying to make.

    Right now, my 15-year old character's goal is acceptance and finding his place in life. He likes to read and he is a lucid dreamer. Those two traits are really important to the story, because they help propel him and guide him through to success.

    A little more about the character: he is bored in school because he's smarter than the curriculum and has teachers that don't teach very well. He's also into a girl in class, but doesn't have the nerve to talk to her and turns clumsy around her (She eventually approaches him because his wish is granted that they are assigned to work together on an assignment). The antagonist of the story is a quarterback who also likes the girl, and even though neither of them get her during the story, the friction over her between them eventually ends up in a duel that crosses worlds.

    Whenever the MC tries to improve a situation, things seem to go wrong. He takes care of his mom, who has become a mess since his father "died" and he is really bugged by her depression and feels like too much responsibility is on his head. I suppose he's an escapist, since his life isn't turning out so well and he wishes for an easy out, but he works hard for what he wants even though it usually fails.

    So, now that you know some about him, how can I spice this guy up and make him interesting? I'm having such a hard time getting into a teenage mindset and I just can't seem to define the MC. Maybe the story itself isn't flexible enough to define him. I don't know. Can you guys and gals help me out a little? If there are any details that I can provide, please ask.
    Thanks!
     
  2. Crabapple
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    Crabapple Member

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    I think there is your problem. He should be aimed at more of the "average" kid as I think that is more who your audience is going to end up being. Maybe someone who is struggling at school instead of being so far advanced. The "genius" kid swept into a magical world is a bit over done I believe, and everyone loves an under dog.
     
  3. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Sounds like you've created a "Mary Sue". Essentiall, now have a Wesley Crusher.

    That's okay for YA fiction, but even there can be a hard sell. I see no problem writing such stories if you have fun with it, but obviously you want more. Can't say I blame you, personally.

    A thought that just occured is this - write from the POV of other characters. You may even go so far as to tell the story from one of your current MC's friends. Think, Harry Potter from Ron Weasley's perspective. Or, you can simply write out such stories as a writing exercise to help you get to know the MC better.

    ie Why is the football player willing to go to such lengths? It may be interesting to know. Or, what does the girl REALLY think of the two boys? In either case, give an unflattering view of some of what the MC does.

    -Frank
     
  4. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    He sounds like he is an underdog. Not to boast or be melodramatic or whatever, but smart students deal with the fear of failure far more than less intelligent people. The way to make him less cliched isn't to make him average. Nobody is average, but a lot of book characters are. You could give the MC a crippling fear of rejection at first. It'd fit since his father's gone.
     
  5. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that your MC is a 'Mary Sue.' He is too perfect. He has faults, but they're not really faults (i.e. being too shy to ask a girl out).

    I have a MC in one of my stories that is the equivalent of a teenager. She's greedy, takes advantage of her friends, and can be callous at times. I like her because of those traits.

    Here is a way I would spice up your MC's life. His dad walked out his mom and the MC when he was younger. Because of this his mom is an overworked single parent living in poverty, an alcoholic, and is verbally abusive towards the MC because she blames him for everything. As a result,the MC doesn't get along well with his mom, spends as little time at home as possible, and dreams of escaping the harsh reality that his life is.

    That's just an example. I have no idea if it would even fit in with everythng you have plotted out. :)
     
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  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I like Ellipse's idea, as well as the mention of making him an underdog.
     
  7. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I like the idea of making him a bit of an underdog. Adding in more painful childhood seems a bit cliche to me, but that's prolly just 'cause I read a lot of that kind of stuff.

    Maybe really bad luck in trivial things? Just dumbing him down makes him seem too similar to Percy Jackson for me. Perhaps his "escapism" could be turned darkly and interpreted as cowardice? I don't know.

    But, props on the story premise. It seems quite interesting to me. Just curious, but what makes the girl and the quarterback "spiced up"?
     
  8. Headintheclouds
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    Headintheclouds Member

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    I also agree that your character is a bit of a Marty Stu (male Mary Sue) - he's simply too perfect. If you want to keep him fairly similar in terms of character, you could take his traits but put a negative twist on them. Like maybe, because he's too smart for school, he can't be bothered applying himself so is in fact struggling with many of his classes. Maybe school is so dreary that he regularly skips class and often gets in trouble with authority figures.

    And maybe rather than happilly caring for his mother, he feels resentful towards her. Maybe she's the type to sit in the dark with a cigarette and mope, to be unable to hold a job, to be constantly forgetting things like she's meant to pick your character up after school or come to Parent/Teacher night. He resents how she's fallen apart, but still grudgingly cares for her. He wants his mother to stop being so selfish, so that he has a chance to be the kid again and be able to fall apart over his dad leaving.

    Anyway, those are just some examples of the way you can twist the current plot to make the character less perfect.
     
  9. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    I'm with everyone else, he's definately a Mary Sue.

    And the dumming him down thing just doesn't make much sense.
    You say he's a dreamer? Well there's one of your main keys. Perhaps your character tends to space out a lot during classes and doesn't always make the grade.
    Take the movie Flicka for example, the story starts with our MC dreaming about horses and ends up missing the most important grade of her entire school year because of it.
    Perhaps you can do something like that for your MC? Maybe the reason he dreams so much is because of the way his life is. So he often dreams to escape reality.

    And no offense, but if any teen pretty much had to sign away their life to take care of someone else, they wouldn't be your perfect little saint about it.
    Most teens will feel some resentment towards the fact, maybe even like they're life is over.
    I know when a friend of mine had to give up most of his life to take care of his five younger sisters after his parent's death (he was only 18 at the time) he tried to act like it was fine. But really he hated it, and sometimes blamed his parents for casting that fate upon him. He still loved them, but he hated that his life had taken that turn. Often times he was ready to give up and just drop his younger sisters into a foster home because the stress was just to much for him.
    He actually went through a few internal battles and barely kept everything together.

    But yeah, that's just an example of what might happen if a teen suddenly has to take up the lead role in life and take care of others. Most times something like that takes a large emotional blow on a teenager, and they have time adjusting to it. Because let's face it, when we're teenagers we never sit there and expect to have some disaster strick and we become instant adult.

    That's just my little tid-bit though. Hope it gives you some ideas.
     
  10. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Have you taken a Mary Sue Litmus Test yet? They're not entirely accurate, but the "de-suifiers" section might give you some ideas.
     
  11. Vince524
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    Vince524 Member

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    1st off, give him personality. Is he sarcastic? Does he have a dry sense of humor?

    Pretend, in your mind that your spending time with him? How does he react? Is he neat, messy, ocd?

    You need to give him some faults. No one is perfect. Is he a geek, maybe? Seems like he isn't an athlete. Unless he was a 2nd stringer. You just need to flesh him out some.
     
  12. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    Thank you all for your advice!

    First I wanted to say I think the ideas of Crabapple and others where he is struggling in school to make the grade (He's a dreamer and his english teacher is hard to understand) are great. He may be smart, but he's failing. I think Vince also made a point that his personality might be lacking. Aren't there enough sarcastic MCs out there? Not sure how to make him likeable and personable, yet flawed, but your suggestions help there, Vince. I will think about being in the room with him.

    I also like that he could have a fear of failure or rejection, and resents his mom. I left out the fact that taking care of his mom makes him resent her a lot, especially the habits she's picked up since his father entered the dream world and disappeared, yet he still loves her through it all. Like Ellipse suggested, she's picked up some bad habits and is hardly a mother to him, so I really need to work the resentment angle more. Maybe he could say something horrible to her and hurt her right before he is sucked into the world, and he fights to return home to right his wrong, feeling terrible that he too has left her like his father.

    I think in many ways my character is a Mary Sue, but I think I didn't really explain the problems he was running into very well, because he definitely had more issues in the first 5 chapters than just wishing for a girl. He is critical of his teacher, speaks exactly what is on his mind (A bad thing when you talk to a potential bully), feels depressed and angry at his mom, and thinks he's gone mental from the disturbances that are trying to draw him to his father in the dream world.

    Now for the quarterback and the girl, it's a bit of a love triangle. The MC likes the girl a lot, so does the quarterback. The girl is assigned a report with the MC and she ends up thinking he's cool (they have a lot in common), but physically and emotionally, she's more attracted to he quarterback up until the quarterback starts picking on the MC. She's not sure who she likes the most, but this causes friction between the two boys.

    The quarterback is an underachiever aiming for the top and is very sensitive to his image because of that fact. His dad is the football coach and is always disappointed in him, comparing him to his older brothers, both in the NFL. He has big shoes to feel, and he is threatened any time someone gets nearer than him to something he wants, so naturally, the MC getting time with the girl is pushing him to act. The MC overhears a conversation the quarterback has with his dad in the locker room where the dad brutally rails on him for picking on another kid and not achieving more on the team, and afterwards the quarterback runs into the MC and realizes he heard his dad beat on him.

    Since he has an image problem as it is, and since the MC has already irked him about the girl and by telling him to stop picking on other kids, this shoves the quarterback over the edge and he bullies the MC right there in the locker room, starting the rivalry that continues in the dream world.

    Does that explain it further? Anything else you guys can think of?

    Thank you for all your help! I've started rethinking the beginning of my book and I think I'm getting at least a spark on how to change him up.
     
  13. AxleMAshcraft
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    AxleMAshcraft Member

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    Does he try to hide his genius from the other kids at school? If he does that could be another major point of all of this. If he's hiding it, then every little thing he does should be overanalyizing every time he is called on to answer a question. He doesn't just have to cover his intelligence, he has to mask it.
    Another thing, the teacher could also call out your MC as liking the girl. People would be surprised at how many times teachers cross lines like that in school. Call him out and make him squirm.
    Maybe you could put together two of your subjects here: Maybe have your MC tutor the girl he likes or one of her friends/a sibling so he is constantly put into situations when he is around here. (because he is so smart)

    Just a few thoughts :)

    1010
     
  14. Pen
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    Pen Member

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    It might be a case where the MC has certain aspects of his personality left out so the reader can better identify with him. Some character traits everybody can identify with, to within two creative interpretations, and if the story is first person or a third person on the shoulder of the MC, that might well work, as you're going to hear a lot more about other characters through the narration than you are about the main character.

    Not so good is if your main character isn't as fleshed out in your mind as is the other characters- what changes about him during the story? That might give an idea of where he is at the moment.
     

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