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There is a character in every story. Special One. It becomes the center of the story. i.e. the Main character.

The author takes special care of them. Provides them wise thinking. Good luck. A charm. In some cases special powers, too. Sometimes readers bind that character to themselves, that's how they keep engaging with the story.

I'm wondering, will readers accept a story that has no special one?
How can the story evolve without them? Moreover, is it always necessary to have such a Main character for a story?

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    Some of the best books I've read don't have a single main character: GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones), Turtledove's World War, SM Stirling's Sea of Time series etc. Instead they have factions and characters that act on the interests of those factions – slebetman Mar 27 at 9:13
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    "Provides them wise thinking. Good luck. A charm. In some cases special powers, too." This isn't universally true. Main characters like Arthur in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Bilbo in The Hobbit, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz are the most ordinary and unspecial people in their entire stories. The fact that they are so ordinary makes it so much more difficult for them to deal with the extraordinary problems they encounter - and that draws us in. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 at 15:50
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Adding to linksassin's good answer about having a cast of characters rather than a main, I want to point out what you said:

The author takes special care of them. Provides them wise thinking. Good luck. A charm. In some cases special powers too. Sometimes readers bind that character to themselves, that's how they keep engaging with the story.

This is an incorrect assumption. It's true that the MC in a lot of genres (I'm thinking about young-adult fiction and fantasy, mainly) is often special in one way or another, but it doesn't have to be the case. It changes depending on the genre. This kind of stereotypical main character, who wins his struggles because he's special, is completely unnecessary. Fiction is full of protagonists that, while they do have skills and perks, are not "special" nor covered by plot armor.

The real difference between a main character and a secondary one is time; how much time the author spends to show his struggles, describing his emotions and his thoughts, how much time is taken to develop his arc and so on. The more you write about a character, the more the audience will know him/her, and the more they will care (hopefully).

If you don't want one MC, the easiest thing is to have two. Balancing two (interesting) characters, giving each one the same depth and an equally strong story arc, is surely challenging, but it can lead to interesting results. Also, chances are that the readers that won't be able to "click" with one of your MCs will be able to relate with the other. A classic example of this is The Betrothed by A. Manzoni, where both Renzo and Lucia are equally developed main characters.

If you want you can add even more characters and move towards a group cast of main characters. GoT is a good example, but there are many more in literature. Remember that a group cast tends to subtract emphasis from the struggles of a single person to underline the struggles of a group of people, of a political situation, of a nation and so on depending on the book.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation, which includes a discussion of Lord of the Rings, has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Apr 1 at 1:06
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I think you misunderstand the MC; the MC doesn't have to be extraordinary in any particular sense; and in most good stories the MC has weaknesses or flaws to overcome.

The reason an MC is the main character is only because that is the character the reader most identifies with. That is the character whose thoughts and feelings and troubles are shown. They don't have to be special.

Even when they are special, the stories tend to be about problems they can't necessarily solve with their special powers -- Superman's biggest problem (the traditional Superman) was that he is lovesick for Lois Lane, and can't be with her, and can't have a romantic relationship with her. All his super powers can't fix that problem. (In more modern tellings, Superman may hook up with Lois, but again it can't last as a permanent relationship.)

As others have noted, you can bypass the problem a bit using a Main Crew instead of a Main Character, or use a series of leads like GoT, but then they still tend to have a Main Character whose arc we are following for awhile, a fan favorite.

The main rule of writing is the writing must be interesting. We identify with characters doing interesting things. Both IRL and in fiction, we like hearing about extraordinary people, we like hearing about brave people fighting for what is right, defeating evil and cruelty.

So you are going to have to give your character some problem to solve. They don't have to be extraordinary; but also don't make them extraordinarily stupid or gullible or clumsy or foolhardy. They don't have to be a genius, but being so dumb the reader knows they are being dumb is going to be difficult for the reader to relate to emotionally; unless you are writing a farcical comedy (e.g. Dumb and Dumber). In the case of Flowers for Algernon, the character begins mentally disabled; but we relate because he becomes special, and the end is a tragic return to disability.

But these are special cases, you can write an engaging character that is not special in any sense, other than having a problem they feel compelled to solve. Without the latter, you just don't have what most of us consider a "story".

  • Without the latter, you just don't have what most of us consider a "story". does It means a 'story' cannot work if there is nothing to overcome/solve either by MC or by main crew. – Prasad_Joshi Mar 26 at 13:05
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    @Prasad_Joshi Yes, it means that. Otherwise, you have a "slice of life" or "character study"; and both of these require an "interesting life" or "interesting character", respectively. A story about an ordinary person living their life without problems has no stakes. It isn't interesting. The reader is not driven to turn pages to find out "what happens next," because there is (as you say) nothing for the MC or main crew to deal with. That is not a story. To keep readers reading you need tension, conflict, failures and wins. The MC needs something to lose if they don't do something about it. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 26 at 13:42
  • It means we got to find some problems with our MC and then ways to overcome them, this is how we build the base of the story? – Prasad_Joshi Mar 26 at 13:46
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    @Prasad_Joshi To speak more generally, you need a question. That can be a problem, or an opportunity or ambition we aren't sure they can reach. It can be something emotional for them to overcome. It can be a love story. It can be a heist, like the movie Ocean's Eleven. You need a main question that will sustain the reader's interest in how it all turns out. A story requires introducing the character, then the big question, then showing their difficulty in dealing with it and what they learn, etc, and then the conclusion of "how it all turns out". – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 26 at 14:25
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It is harder to keep the reader engaged without one

As you say a main character is someone for the reader to connect with. Ideally they will empathise with them and come to care about the character. Wanting to know what happens to them is enough to keep the pages turning.

If you choose to go without a main character this can be harder to obtain. Instead you will need to draw from a cast of character, each having to work to connect with the reader. For a cast of 6 that can easily be 6 times as much work, plus additional work to manage the transitions. Even more work in preventing readers from disconnecting from the characters you haven't talked about in a while. Writing a good story that doesn't have a main character or characters is hard.

That doesn't mean it can't be done.

Game of Thrones is the most prominent example but there are many others. In GoT the 'main' characters are constantly rotating and we are unsure of who it is meant to be. The main character is whoever the POV is at a given time, each character is treated as equally important.

  • but why there is always need of Main character(s). – Prasad_Joshi Mar 26 at 13:15
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    @Prasad_Joshi the story has to be about something, focused on something. Often (but not always) that focus is a particular character, the protagonist; but there can be stories without main characters. For example, the book (not the film) "World War Z" and especially "The Zombie Survival Guide" which came before it is a decent example of a non-character focused narrative. – Peteris Mar 26 at 14:38
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    @Peteris Oooh... your mention of zero main characters reminds me of Asimov's The Last Question unless you consider the question itself as a character (or you assume the computers are somehow related, but one could argue that each computer is a different, separate machine) – slebetman Mar 27 at 9:17
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Protagonists are not a requirement for conveying stories or even making them engaging (though they help with engagement). Take the ancient Chinese epic 'Water Margin' or the more recent (1791 AD) Chinese epic 'Dream of the Red Chamber' which have cast members in the hundreds, with no clear protagonists.

For more modern examples of this, observe the animes 'Durarara' and 'Baccano!' (both from the same author - I'd especially recommend Baccano!, but both knowingly cast off the protagonist trope, Baccano! doing so explicitly from the opening scene; Durarara!! has a character who one might consider the protagonist, but this concept is repeatedly challenged by nearly every episode following a different member of the extensive cast, including antagonistic characters, and each with separate motives and goals, who takes over as narrator for that episode).

These four I mentioned take the form of many "protagonists" who have overlapping/intertwining stories. One can argue certain characters feel more "main-charactery", but just barely, or just to provide a pair of eyes into the world. These are noteworthy for repeatedly switching the focus of who the story is on.

A more western way of doing this is having groups of characters. While one could argue Danny Ocean is the ""protagonist"" of Ocean's Eleven, or that Verbal Kent is the protagonist of The Usual Suspects, because of slightly more focus and screen-time, I'd argue their entire team is collectively the protagonist (contrasted to, say, Lord of the Rings, where Frodo Baggins is clearly the protagonist, despite switching viewpoints with Merry and Pippin, and despite travelling with a large team of interesting individuals, or contrasted against Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise is obviously the protagonist, despite having a supporting team. Chronicles of Narnia (the book series, not the movies) also has the several protagonists where all the (human) team members are of equal focus).

So here we have two separate methods: The Asian method of throwing a huge group of characters' individual intertwining stories, and making none of them the protagonist, and the Western method of making a whole team collectively the protagonist.

A classic Middle-Eastern protagonist subversion is One Thousand and One Nights, which uses a frame story with a protagonist-as-narrator, but telling stories within it focusing on different protagonists of each sub-story. The Princess Bride (the book version) does similar, having a frame story and primary narrator, but within the story-within-the-story, only has two or three protagonists, who have intertwining plots. The movie does this too, but focuses mostly on one of the protagonists, undermining my point here.

A useful writing tip is, "Every character is the protagonist of their own story", and by keeping that in mind, you can subvert or avert the typical 'single protagonist' trope. This is useful even if writing with a normal protagonist, because it helps you think about and flesh out side-characters if you think of them as protagonists of their own untold story.

It's also sometimes useful to separate out the two often-overlapping-but-not-required-to-be tropes of Hero and Main Character. The Main Character is not always the Hero. Imagine writing a Damsel-in-distress narrative from the perspective of the Damsel, who'd be the main character, even though not the hero. Or writing a typical Hero vs Villain narrative from the perspective of the villain.

You can also have a narrator who's separate from the protagonist, such as in A Series of Unfortunate Events books, where the Narrator (Lemony Snicket, the ostensible author of the book) is a character within the world itself, and the Baudelaire orphans are equal protagonists who have to mutually rely on each other, or try to make-do when one or more of the group is unavailable.

One last movie I'd point out is Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, following six criminals in the aftermath of a heist with none the real focus until virtually the end of the movie.

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I think there are a lot of good answers in here. My two cents:

The focus of an engaging story is a conflict. The conflict is your "main character" so to speak. But a conflict has no "face" - it needs a vehicle. The easiest vehicle is at least a single person who is faced with that conflict, because we all can relate to that. We all must resolve, or fail to resolve, or cope with, conflicts throughout our lives - big and small.

But there is no rule that says the conflict can't be shared by a group of people all dealing with it in their own way.

The usual "big three" forms of conflict are: "Person vs Self," (Breaking Bad) "Person vs Person," (Game of Thrones) or "Person vs Nature" (Jaws), and they aren't mutually exclusive - lots of complex stories use all three but one usually dominates. The conflict is represented by "vs" and the character(s) are represented by those on either or both sides of the equation. The person doesn't even need to be human, but in stories where it's a dog (A Dog's Way Home) or a robot or whatever, the subject is anthropomorphized so that the audience can relate. The MAIN character, then, is generally whomever gets the most narrative. It is not necessarily someone who is armed with any help. Sometimes the best stories are ones in which the subject is armed with nothing at all and must still defeat (or at least survive) the conflict. But if a group of people get equal narrative time then the "Entourage" is the main character.

So back to your question: "Will this be accepted?" Well maybe yes, and maybe no. Like with any story, that depends on whom you submit it to - their personal opinions, tastes, and what they are looking for. You write the best story you can, and you keep submitting it until it gets picked up; and meanwhile you write another one and do the same, etc. The more you do this the better the odds something will be accepted.

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Calling it the "main character" is just an easy way to communicate the underlying mechanic in its most common form; the main character is just another way of saying, the focal-point of the story, or the thing that catches the reader's interest; what they follow.

It could be a person, a place, a concept, a timeline, and any number of other interesting things. It just happens to usually be a person, because people are interesting and its easier to talk about them than many other things for any length of time in an engaging way.

For example, think of when you were very young and learned a mind-expanding concept in an early science class that captivated you. In an analogous sense, that thing you learned about was the main character of that "story".

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I think what you're trying to ask is, how do I have a main character who isn't given a bunch of nice things by the author just to make them stand out. How do you have a chracter who isn't given "wise thinking, good luck, a charm, in some cases special powers, too"?

To be sure, there are a lot of successful stories out there that have protagonists with special abilities. But this isn't always true. There are also a lot of stories where the main characters are perfectly ordinary, then are thrown into some extraordinary circumstances. Frodo and Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are two excellent examples of this kind of character. The Lord of the Rings is set in one of the most highly-developed and deeply magical settings in literary history, and yet Tolkien went out of his way to make his main protagonists hobbits, a race hand-crafted to be as mind-bendingly unadventurous and plain as possible. The result is that when Bilbo and Frodo are dragged into the world outside of the Shire, the simple lifestyle they're used to is contrasted against the dangerous and chaotic situations they keep on finding themselves in. And because they're such ordinary men, they consistently have to solve their problems with quick thinking, strength of character, and raw bravery, all of which they have to learn on the way. They don't get to rely on any special powers or unearned wisdom to get them out of danger.

Frodo and Bilbo do obtain the ring during their stories. But they don't start out with the ring as something core to their characters - it's something that comes into their lives during their adventures. And when it does, it complicates their stories and defines what happens to them. And everyone else around them on their journeys is dealing with equally as weighty responsibilities or magic. When you write a story, your main character will be thrown into some unique situations, whether they're ordinary protagonists or not. But done well with an ordinary main character, these situations could potentially happen to anyone in the story - they just happen to fall into the laps of the characters the reader is most invested in.


I'm also wondering if you've gotten burned out on Mary Sues in bad fiction and want to avoid writing Mary Sues yourself. A Mary Sue is a main character who the author is clearly in love with but is insufferable to the reader. These characters consistently have a few ugly traits:

  • Mary Sues are always able to solve problems by using special powers or strength of character that they had at the beginning of the story. They're never forced to change because of or struggle with a problem.
  • Mary Sues are always treated as being morally in the right, even when they do things that would be unacceptable from anyone else. For example, anyone they insult or get angry at is treated as though they deserved it, but anyone who responds in kind to the main character is treated as though they're out of line.
  • With the above two problems, readers aren't going to have much of a reason to care about a Mary Sue character. Bad writers try to compensate for this by giving their characters tragic, edgy backstories.

That first point can be badly exacerbated giving a poorly-written character special powers or a good luck charm. But giving a unique character special powers does not automatically mean that they never run into a problem they can't solve without that power.

The Incredibles I and II provide some positive and negative examples of this. At the beginning of The Incredibles II, the main characters battle The Underminer but lose the fight and trash much of the city in the process. For anyone else in the story, this would have been treated as incompitent at best and the start of a slide into villainy at worst (a la Incrediboy's decent into becoming Syndrom). But the movie instead treats the Inredible family as having done their best and undeserving of the consequences that follow failure. This is a very mild case of a Mary Sue - The Incredibles II is a great movie at the end of the day. By Pixar's high standards, though, the way this doesn't quite sit right is one of the valid criticisms leveled against the film.

In contrast, the first movie still gives the family the exact same powers. But the core conflicts aren't about those powers. They're about Bob being torn between protecting his family and wanting to relive the good old days of openly being a superhero. This conflict cannot be directly addressed by the application of superpowers, so the characters have to deal with the core issues in other ways. It's not until Bob is willing to prioritize his family over playing hero that the main characters are able to work together as team well enough to defeat Syndrome.

If you're worried that you can't write a main character with unique gifts without making them fall flat, the solution is simple: Make sure that they encounter problems that can't be automatically solved with the abilities they had the start of their stories, and when they fail, make sure they face the consequences for those failures. As I discussed earlier, you don't have to give main characters special powers to make them successful characters. But you don't have to go out of your way to avoid giving them special powers, either.

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