Friday, September 9, 2011

My Biggest Fear: A Flat Main Character

My mom finished reading the first draft of my WIP and I know what most of you are thinking, your mom really? And the answer to that is yes really. If anyone is going to be brutally honest and rip my story to shreds it will be my mom. So of course when she told me she finished I was excited for the feedback but at the same time I braced myself for her response.

She started off with the good stuff. She always does. It's a good story. She liked the concept. It held her interest. But... and this is when I braced myself. "Your main character," she said. "Well, I couldn't really get a sense of who she is. When you read a book you should be able to visualize the characters and even when I was done reading I couldn't picture her. And she was kind of flat."

As far as the visualization I had to agree with her. While all of the other characters were described my main character lacked their similar description. Now the book is a first person point of view and instead of falling into the category of where the main character describes herself in the mirror I randomly made references to her appearance. Obviously it wasn't enough. Going back and reading the first three chapters I agree with my mom completely. I usually do. 

I don't know about any of you but my biggest fear when writing is creating characters that are no more than cardboard cutouts. I want my characters to jump off the page and make the reader feel as if they know them. So when my mom told me my main character was flat I immediately started going over her personality traits in my mind and thinking how I could amp it up to make her more real.

It is my first draft though, and first drafts are your starting point. Now I just need to go back and inject my main character with personality and find subtle ways to describe her without having her stand in front of a mirror and run down all her imperfections. To me this is the fun part. You spend so much time with your characters and you want the reader to be able to see them as you do. As a friend of mine said, when she called me while reading this particular WIP, "Oh that makes sense but not every reader is going to have the luxury to be able to pick up the phone and call the writer in the middle of the day and ask." The reader is not dumb but they are not mind readers either. Sometimes while in the middle of writing I forget that. Luckily I have people who point these things out to me. And when I finish the first revision I am going to annoy my critique partner, Kelley (Hi!) and ask if she will do me the favor of ripping it apart.  

I want to know that I am not alone. Am I the only person who fears creating less than stellar characters that fall flat? Do you find it difficult to describe your main character when the story is in 1st person? And how many drafts do you typically go through before declaring your manuscript as finished? Would love to hear what everyone has to say.

Hopefully by Monday I will have a review of The Hunger Games up. For some reason I'm having a hard time getting into it, but it seems like it's picking up now. 


  1. Hi! *waves*

    First, your work doesn't annoy me at all. I'm totally pumped to read your stuff :)

    Second, I wouldn't say I had issues getting into the Hunger Games, but I don't see what all the hype is about. It's a great sci-fy/dystopian series. I've read many that are as good. But, whatever :)

    As you know :) My first WIP was in third person. It's a little easier to get the main character across as far as physical looks, etc. But my second WIP is first person and I am quite worried that he's coming out flat. So we'll have to see what others think... ;) ;)

  2. Hi,

    I had that problem in my first novel and a bit in the one I'm working on now. It is true you want your characters to pop out and make an impression on people. I'm sure by the second draft they'll have more of themselves in the book. The first draft can be harder at times.


    You are not the only one that struggles with this. All the best. If you ever need a pair of eyes, I'm happy to help.

  3. Thank you guys for the comments. I'm already feeling better.

    Kelley: *Waves back* I'm thrilled that you think that about The Hunger Games because I keep reading and thinking to myself I don't get it. Should I get it? Because I really don't understand the hype either. But I am only a hundred pages in. So we'll see. And when you finish your new WIP send it my way. Looking forward to see what you come up with next.

    Ladonna: I am going to take you up on that offer very soon and the same goes for you too, if you ever need a pair of eyes just let me know. I'd love to help :)

  4. HI! So Im stopping by from Ladies Who Critique and Im so glad I took the time to read this because I def feel like this! I fear that my books will fall short and my characters will not be memorable. Or entertaining. Or real. I can go on and on!
    About Hunger Games, I actually adore that series! Yes, its a bit hard to get into because I think its way diff then typical YA right now. But its def real, and heart touching. A world like that is not far fetched and thats scary. That is how I want my stories to be. Books that stay with you long after you've finished.
    Anyway, I've rambled on long enough! Hope to see you around! Maybe we can exhange some words about our writing!! Have a good day!

  5. Hi Valia and thanks for stopping by. Sometimes I worry that my posts are just me babbling and are completely irrelevant to everyone else so I am so happy that you can relate. And I agree a hundred percent with what you said, "Books that stay with you long after you've finished." That's exactly what I am going for as well. And please don't stop rambling. I love to hear what everyone has to say and would love to exchange words about our writing sometime. I'll look for you on Ladies Who Critique.