I'm writing a story where at some point the main character is going to realize he is the main character of a story (like in Redshirts, but different).

Now if that character was of the hero type, there would be no problem as heroes per definition think they are unsinkable and will save the girl. While most of them would probably die due to stupidity, being the main character has the advantage they don't (that's per requierement, my main characters don't just die half way through the story).

This character however is rather boring and after realizing he is not only the main character but actually the main character (read: the main joke) of a comical fantasy story, he loses all motivation to pursue the authors (my) agenda / the goals set out for him.

As an example think of the following situation (let's call the main character Joe).

Joe picks up the gun, pauses for a second or two, tilts his head while considering what seems to be a vaguely insane idea, puts the gun to his head, looks up - because for some reason he believes I am somewhere above him watching, which in itself is a rather unrealistic concept for I am an author and not a god, but we had already established Joe is not the most clever person and maybe a theological discussion should be moved into the appendix - and with a challenging tone says "You know what?! I'm done. Get me home now or the story ends right here! I'll count back from 3 and if I'm not home at 0, I'll kill your stupid main character. 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... I mean it!" Click. Dud shot. Click. Dud shot. Click. Dud shot. "Seriously?!"

The world doesn't have many specifics, the main character can't be 100% sure he actually is the main character, but apparently he evolved to just not care or he is certain enough. Now imagine beeing in that situation - you were thrown into a world where some allmighty entity threw you into a situation you completly dislike and has to prevent you from dying. You decide to challenge that entity instead of following it's plans.

My question is, how do I get that character back on track? Or rather, what can I build into my world to motivate someone to do as I say even though they know they have the sympathy points and I don't? As a limiting condition - I don't talk to any character, but I can do/create what I want as longs as it is funny.

So basically I need to construct a set of boundaries around a character's basic needs and that character beeing a "good person" to get him to go beat the bad guy.

To further narrow the question (and prevent it from beeing closed as to broad or off topic), I'm only interested in creating a set of boundaries around a "normal person" from a world like ours that does think what he perceives is real but knows there is any sort of restriction that keeps them from dying and just wants to go home.

Edit: As suggested in the comments I'll try adding something to rate the answers - (the mental hospital one is hilarious especially because it allows drugs and hypnosis to be introduced but) I'd like it to be something usable in a medieval/fantasy setting, it should be funny and disruptive to the main character (think of a battle between character and author) and require a minimum of direct author actions (just teleporting the character where I want him to be is a no go) and at the same time be effective. The mental hospital answer for example solves the problem in a way I really like, it's just not a perfect fit to my world (sorry for not making that clear before) and a little (really just a little) radical, but that's the way I was thinking, something using in world resources and e.g. just bad luck in that case to impose my will. The simpler the solution the better. Simpler in this case just means that the reader could accept that just happened or was a very smooth way of solving this problem (like that someone was watching and put him in a mental hospital, that's exactly the sort of accidental influence I'm aiming at).

Short example of another incident - the main character was shifted into another dimension by an anomaly while sitting on the toilet and there attacked by a skeleton. Because he had no way of winning that battle the toilet was dimension shifted too just a little later and crushed the skeleton - in my opinion that's a better fit than having a passing by giant stomp the skeleton into the ground.

I hope I actually made it clearer not unclearer ;)

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    Something very similar has been explored in the novel «t» by Viktor Pelevin, or the Myou've Gotta be Kidding Me Equestria fanfiction by DataPacRat, you might search for inspiration there (basically, the protagonists realize they are helpless pawns in the hand of the author, but they do not give up, either try to break up into the author's universe or strike a deal with the author).
    – Radovan Garabík
    Mar 19, 2017 at 15:51
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    Would anyone mind adding tags? I'm not sure which are appropriate on this site as the question came from worldbuilding.
    – DonQuiKong
    Mar 23, 2017 at 6:52
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    This idea is hilarious I love it
    – Tasch
    Feb 12, 2020 at 1:52
  • This sounds brilliant. It reminds me a bit of 'Stranger than fiction' - Movie with Will Pharrel as the main character, but this has a different feel to it.
    – storbror
    Sep 22, 2020 at 7:18

7 Answers 7


Have another character witness the gun to the head moment and then shift the next scene to the admitting ward of the local loony bin. This will give you plenty of opportunities for humorous scenes involving the other patients. You could even throw in a megalomaniac, who can feed into his main character identity, by proxying for you, the author. Then after he vents his dissatisfaction with his role and receives encouragement from your proxy, he can learn that he has been arguing with a crazy person (as opposed to an author - which is a very fine distinction) and begin to doubt his conclusions.

Doubt is going to be your best tool for getting him back onto the hero quest. As long as he believes that he is at the center of a grand divine comedy, he will resist your plans for him. But once he goes back to believing that the world he lives in is real, he is once again your puppet to command.

Transition from the loony bin chapter with a scene congratulating him on such a swift recovery as he is released into his own custody. Your story will have lost 27 days (which I believe is the minimum incarceration for an attempted suicide), but that is a minor loss compared to losing your main character.

And this all prepares the way for a second revelation of his characterhood in the final chapter, where you can finally speak directly to him from your authorial throne; congratulating him on a quest well completed and listening to his urgent petition to you for many, many sequels.

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    Thanks, I really like where you're going with this and it opens up a lot of possibilities, but I was thinking about a world with .. less technology etc. And I'm not exactly sure how my character would react to thinking he's gone crazy but I suspect the result would deviate from him just seeing everything as real again and following the quest. But I do think your answer is exactly the kind of funny and casual bad luck I'm looking for.
    – DonQuiKong
    Mar 18, 2017 at 18:36
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    In case it didn't have a title yet, it could be called "27 days later". Please don't ban me.[Great answer btw.]
    – storbror
    Sep 22, 2020 at 7:16


Your MC might not want to play the authors games, and there is a limit what you can do to them, but you can certainly ruin his friends/family/love interest.

After a Groundhog day-esque period of time where the MC feels he can do anything, see the consequences stick to the people he cares about. In the above example, you could have the gun go off as soon as its not pointing at himself, and have a bystander catch a flesh wound from a ricochet.

The Villan realises hes the main character too

Nothing ruins your day like being actively targeted by the big bad.

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    Hi, welcome to writing.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. This is a good first answer, thanks for contributing and happy writing!
    – linksassin
    Nov 7, 2019 at 22:53

The crucial observation is that this is a first-person narrated story where the author-god is a fallible, limited character. You now have a classical conflict between Joe and the author-god-narrator. So write this conflict. The narrator's inner conflict may be more important considering the Joe-as-figment-of-imagination inner and outer interpretation. Explore questions like, why does the narrator-author face so much difficulty in writing a character who would do as he ought? Is the narrator feeling excessively powerless or reckoning with the laws of the universe and bounds of his own imagination?


For me to be interested in this, I'd want the world to have the feel of some reality to it, even if it's metafiction with no fourth wall. The key is that this is "real life" to the character, even if he knows, intellectually, that it's fiction. His death is a real death to him. His relationships are real relationships, relative to his reality. With that in mind, you have great control over him, especially if you don't exercise it directly, but through the structures of his world.

I think the early webcomic 1/0 is the best exploration I've ever seen of this concept: http://popculturephilosopher.com/reconstructivist-art-1-0/ . It succeeds because the characters feel real, even in a cartoonish reality with no consistent fourth wall.


In the Wheel of Time, characters say to each other "you are ta'veren, and the pattern weaves around you." Cynical readers have long translated that to "you are A Major Character, and the Plot weaves around you." Many a coincidence (all of which of course are the arm of the writer) can be explained this way.

So your "hero" needs a sidekick who is able to detect Major Characterness. You'll need a backstory and a word (probably with an apostrophe in it) for the state of being a Major Character, and one for the Plot as well, and you'll be all set. I'm not even kidding. You're lampshading the whole thing by having the hero notice, so give it a name and give the hero someone to discuss it with. That someone can also cheer the hero up and offer encouragement or reassurance, or at least attempt to talk the hero out of any crazy schemes to get out of being a Major Character.


Love the concept!! Sounds to me though that this is about motives and goals - at the moment, the author/narrator has goals for a 'normal' narrative, and the character's goal is to disrupt the author's plan. Given the situation, the only way one will get the upper hand is by manipulating the perceptions/goals of the other.
Sounds simple eh?
We're working on the assumption that the author can control the character's situation and circumstances, possibly including direct control of the actions of other characters around him (e.g. if the main character refuses to fight a bad guy, the bad guy can be made to die suddenly of a pre-existing disease just to move the story on). However, the author can't control the thoughts or actions of the main character, he can only influence them by cleverly arranging the character's situation. It's manipulation rather than control per se.

But here's where it gets interesting - in order for the Author to directly manipulate the character, the author must behave cleverer than the character, and keep the manipulation very subtle. Overtly affecting the character's world to mindlessly direct the character's actions and wants is not a subtle strategy, so the probable result in the character you've described will just be an existential crisis and/or attempted suicide (as already described). Even if the author succeeds in making the character grudgingly do what is wanted of him, it won't make a satisfying read.

If on the other hand the character manages to be cleverer than the author, the whole thing becomes much more interesting as the character seeks to exploit tiny loopholes in the scenes / situations that he's given. The 'storyline' then becomes more and more irrelevant as it devolves into a battle of wits between an author struggling to contain his creation and a furious character using various tricks to dodge the intended sequence of events. I have no idea how this would end though - and I think it's going to be an extremely interesting proposition to write a character that is cleverer than you the author!
Again, 10 out of 10 for a great concept though, I'd quite like to try it myself sometime!


The problem is more existential than motivational. I mean, the main character already is motivated to do what he is doing (save the girl, make money, get famous, ...). That won't change by his realization - so why should he stop trying to do what he is trying to do? Maybe to the narrator, the girl is just letters on a page, but to the hero, she is still his true love.

What would ensue is an episode of existential crisis. The hero might get drunk at the nearest tavern and wonder what the point in anything is. After that he could pull himself together and realize that he has always been relatively happy with his life and is looking forward to marrying Gwendoline, so he might as well continue.

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