Creative Writing Tips -
Have You Established Your Main Character At The Start?
by: Nick Vernon
In the beginning of your story you have to grab your readers’ interest
and sustain it till the end. Our hook is our character. Readers keep on
reading to find out more about the character. To see what he’ll do in the
story; how he’ll solve his problems. What his goals are and whether he’ll
And because our character is the reason readers become hooked on our
stories, establishing him at the start is a must in a short story. And it
is essential to establish him at the start because we don’t have the
capacity in our limited word length to introduce him at our leisure.
The bond between readers and character has to be developed almost
You might have a few characters though. How do you decide who your main
character will be? A main character is one that drives the story.
Think of it this way… If we were to take him away, there will be no
story because it’s his story we are telling. The story will unfold by what
is happening or what has happened to him.
When you establish who your main character will be, the next thing to
do is to find which of your characters is in the best position to tell the
story. Will your main character tell his story or will you give that role
to another character?
This is what we call Viewpoint and what we’ll see in more detail in
Your main character isn’t necessarily the one who is telling the story;
he might not even appear in our story ‘physically’ but will be there
through the thoughts of others. So the viewpoint character might be a
Whoever is telling the story is the viewpoint character.
The viewpoint character gives the colouring of the story. Whatever this
characters says, we will believe. It may or may not be true, according to
the main character, but because he isn’t there ‘physically’ to voice his
opinions, we will have to take the viewpoint character’s word for it.
In a novel you can play around with viewpoint. You can have several
viewpoint characters. In a short story it works best with one.
So your main character, whether he’ll be telling his own story or
someone else will be doing it for him, has to be established at the start
of your story.
Having said that, let’s see the reasons why the main character may not
be telling his own story...
- Perhaps our main character is one that readers won’t sympathize or
- Or the main character will not view highly with our readers
- Or the viewpoint character knows all the facts and can tell the
Let me give you an example of a secondary character telling the story
of a main character…
Let’s say your secondary character is a psychiatrist and the main
character is the patient. Depending on what’s going to go on in the story,
we’ll have to choose who’s in a better position to tell it. In this case,
I will choose the psychiatrist.
I’ve done this because the patient is confused, being the one with the
problems. The psychiatrist knows all the facts and his opinions will make
things clearer to readers.
So, as the secondary character (the psychiatrist) unravels the story,
we’ll become involved in the main character because it’s the main
character’s story that is been told.
This may get a little confusing to the beginner writer. As they write
they will have to keep in mind that the secondary character, although he’s
telling the story, is NOT our main character.
The secondary character is there to do perform a task. He’s only the
voice. It’s the main character we’ll become involved with.
A secondary character doesn’t play such an important role as a main
character does. Therefore, information about secondary characters should
be kept to a minimum. It’s not his story – it’s the main character’s story
and the spotlight must, most times, be kept on the main character.
Take the above example for instance. It’s no relevance to the story how
the psychiatrist started his career or where he received his diploma –
what’s important, is what he has to say about the main character, his
Introduce your main character straight away, as close to the beginning
of the story that’s possible. Enable your readers to form a bond and that
will keep them hooked.
Is your main character established at the start of your story?