Is Your Main Character "Good Enough?"
It's an interesting question I was asked recently, and no, it was not asked with sarcastic intention. The intention behind the person who asked me this question was to challenge me to think, is my main character someone my audience is going to want to root for? The question really got me thinking. As I contemplated the question, someone else who was part of this conversation answered, "I think my character definitely is. They're a people pleaser who is an upstanding member of the community."
Don't get me wrong, I'll always root for the protagonist of the story who wants to help make the world a better place, but is a "good enough" character limited to having to be a good person? I personally don't think so. No, this is not where I begin to rant about the anti-hero being just as "good" as the humanitarian (even though it is true). This is instead where I explore the main character that is, well, "good enough."
1) The Flawed One(s)
This one's a bit general but a good starting poise nonetheless. Some of my favorite characters in books or television, movies or comics are not always the do-gooder or the go-getter with a rough past. I like these characters well enough as they are, but sometimes I can't help my attention fixating on characters that show their own flaws. Whether these flaws are of the moral, emotional or motivational nature, I can't help but love these characters for the relatability they provide. Here's a famous example many (if not everyone) will be familiar with: George R. Martin's Tyrion Lannister. He's witty, he's charismatic, and he's a good person. He has physical flaws (Dwarfism being a birth defect that hinders his entitlement to status especially in this world), and his an uncanny talent for giving into nihilism often makes him form enemies from friends. So many times watching Tyrion dance circles around friend and foe is as rewarding as it is frustrating when he falls on old habits. He's far from perfect, but that relatability of not being perfect beings ourselves is why such a character is so captivating.
2) The Once Idols
Here's a character I also really like to experience These are the egotistical characters you encounter from time-to-time who were once some manner of idol (an actor, an artist or even a ruler) whose life falls apart when they lose that fame or fortune and are taken down a notch with a bitter slice of reality. Maybe they're a tad cliche on the surface: fame vanishes and the famous person learns to be and do better right? Well, maybe you have me there, but if done right and given plenty of effort, you can tell a dramatic story from this perspective. Cliche or not, I argue this has to be a pretty tough character to work with considering your antagonizing forces will mainly be on the side of "good." I think it's always been the journey itself I really liked, offering a perspective of how tragic life can be even when having everything either isn't good enough or not even worth it in the end when it is lost.
3) The Very Lost Souls
I like dividing these characters into three categories: the lost soul who was born into a life of crime, the lost soul who committed a crime and the lost soul who never belonged to anyone in the first place. We're obviously familiar with the first two, so I'll explain the last one. I always love the stories of a lost soul who's alone in the world (or has been if they're not starting the series as a young adult) and can't seem to find a place to belong to. The world doesn't care about this character, and the character doesn't care about the world until they're either dragged into some manner of conflict or stumble upon something someone else wants. It's that, "going from nobody to somebody" through the most unexpected circumstances. Surprisingly this isn't always the "chosen one" story either. I've read stories in the past where this "nobody" has the liberty of moving around a world that's drawn the lines in the sand because they don't belong to either side. The rules don't necessarily apply to this nobody because no one in this world wanted the nobody to begin with.
4) That One Guy or Gal from the Crowd
This one we're all familiar with but I think this type of character still has a lot to offer. We imperfect human beings, I choose to believe, can all climb aboard the "random acts of kindness" train. You've heard it a million times, but not always can one wait for a hero to appear. Not always is a hero someone with super powers or political connections. Sometimes it's just that one person who pulls you out of the street as a car goes rocketing by, or the person who talks you off a ledge. We all make up a part of a crowd which is why this particular character is of the easiest for a reader to trust.
I do love the question "is your main character good enough" because of how many ways this can be turned around. The bottom line is that your character should be good enough of a device to tell your story but as a person? They should be just good enough for your reader to relate to and want to root for.