You’ve worked hard, you have a full first draft, you sit down for your first edit and you realize: there’s a problem. The POV character just isn’t working. The plot flows well, the prose dazzles, but the main character, the star of the show, is just… boring. Why? How did this happen, and what can you do about it?
You’re Too Worried About the Audience
All authors want readers to love their protagonists. Without that connection, no one will finish the first chapter, let alone the whole book. But it’s easy to worry too much about what an invisible, judgmental army may think of your lead character, and that gets in the way of telling a good story.
Say it with me: my protagonist doesn’t have to a paragon.
You are not your character.
This isn’t a Medieval morality play.
A POV character doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s easy to see how popular imperfect characters really are. Just look at Tony Stark, Dustfinger, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Arya Stark. Their flaws and failings make them interesting. The reader doesn’t drop Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth’s bias is revealed. Tony Stark is one, big human disaster, and yet Iron Man has become one of Marvel’s most popular characters.
Besides, perfect people are impossible, and when you try to write one, they turn out perfectly annoying.
Escapism Eclipses Character
Writers live in multiple worlds, and when we deal with real life struggles and insecurities, it’s too easy to turn our protagonist into an idealized self to live out our fantasies. While authors will always put elements of themselves in their characters – that’s inescapable – you have to understand the difference between personal escapism and a story designed for a wider readership.
There’s nothing wrong with writing stories purely for your own enjoyment. Go for it! But writers have to be a little more self-aware when writing for others.
If your character is everything you want to be, and all the characters around them see a flawless angel, ask yourself why the other characters’ perception matters so much.
The Character Is a Skin Suit
Lots of genre fiction suffers from boring protagonists. Writers can be much more excited to introduce their original worlds and convoluted plots than the character moving through them. The POV character becomes a hollow shell the audience can wear to explore the story, and while the rest of the story may be wonderful, if the heart of the story – the primary character – isn’t interesting, it will cheat the wonderful world you drop them in.
You Just Have More Interesting Characters
Think of your favorite characters. Chance are, quite a few are sidekicks or subplot fodder. All characters should be interesting, but if the sideshow is more entertaining than the main act, the story’s central theme and plot line will feel weak. Fans may ask for stories focused purely on the sidekicks and their backstories. In these cases, you may find that the wrong character is telling the story. How much more interesting would your favorite space opera be if the would-be knight played second fiddle to the rogue?
Remember, just because your protagonist has some problems doesn’t mean you must scrap the story. This is where editing comes in. Find a few trusted beta readers, see what they have to say, and do a little soul searching. Your story will only improve.