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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Does Your MC Get the Best Lines?

I signed up to receive Friday email updates from writer Holly Lisle. I'm glad I did, because frequently, I'll garner a little nugget from them, and today finds me expanding on this thought Holly gave me.

Her email newsletter was about giving your protagonist the best lines. In theory, this is a given. The protag is who we're cheeering for, rooting for. He or she is the reason we're writing the book in the first place! They should be the most interesting, the most important, and the one with the most problems, quite honestly.

What Holly said was that she sees the same mistake over and over in both manuscripts and published books: "The villain gets all the good lines. Or the sidekick does. Or the guy in the market who doesn't even have a NAME, for crying out loud." Holly believes that this shows the writer likes the other characters better than the protag.

My first Genesis entry (in '09, the one I most certainly did not final in) was returned to me with comments like, "Your heroine isn't as interesting as her best friend," and "Your heroine isn't very likeable." I was totally offended, of course, until I came down off the mountain to realize that I had made her sidekick more personable, more funny, more in-your-face and opinionated.

Holly indicated that the writer who does this, deep down in side, thinks his or her main character is bland. "Too perfect, too pure, to good to get in there and get clobbered by the bad guys or fall down the stairs and come up with a good smart-a$$ comment when he lands." It's as if the writer is protecting the MC...from the bad things in the world, from the consequences that can happen if he or she is offensive or misunderstood.

In truth, the combined effects of all of the above is that the character is bland. Not interesting. Not memorable. Which is a crying shame!

If you had the chance to read my review of Stephen James' newest book, The Queen, you read that I think he's a master at giving his hero some weaknesses that are pretty powerful and threaten to overwhelm him as well as giving his villain a strength that almost--but now quite--puts him on par with being a normal, non-serial-killing crazy person.

When we put our character on such a high pedestal, we run the risk of not being able to write the very good scenes that show them falling off! When they aren't politically correct, when they lose their temper, when they get sarcastic and snarky, when their halo falls off. We are easier to give in to a secondary character doing these things, because they aren't on the page as longer and we feel a false sense of security that if the reader doesn't like them and their antics, they won't have to read about them very long.

Problem is, when we have fun with these secondary characters--let it loose and let it hang out--it throws are hero or heroine into sharp contrast and makes them appear very dull.

So, as Holly suggests, check your dialogue. Read it through and decide for yourself who you've given the best lines to. If it's not your MC, make some adjustments!

Q4U: Any of you out there have this problem like I did? What did you do to overcome your fear of letting the halo slip?

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Eve S Nicholson said...

Quite honestly I don't know if my MC gets the best lines or not. This is one to study. Thanks.

Joanne Sher said...

What a fabulous post, Jeannie! I don't THINK I have this problem (my MC's certainly got issues LOL), but I'll certainly have to think this out. Thanks!

Miss Sharp said...

Wow. I've seen this in so many books, the ones I want to whip against the wall! Give me Becky over Amelia, Scarlett over Melanie, any day! I was actually glad when the insipid Madame Bovary got ahold of the arsenic. (my bad? lol)

Nice to know it's just a matter of writers being a bit fearful. That makes it understandable and fixable. Thanks for sharing, Jeannie! And thanks to Holly, too!

Rita Garcia said...

Now I need to go read my WIP! Great article!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've done the same thing with my poor MC. Luckily I DO like her, so I went through the manuscript again, looking for places to give her some good lines, too.

Thank you for this. It's a good reminder, and it's good to know other writers do this, too.

Tracy Krauss said...

This was excellent advice. I think you are absolutely correct - many minor characters and certainly the villain - get the good lines. I'm watching for it now!

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