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Beyond my skill level

(Not-so-confidential to this years' Hastings Point Workshoppers...)

I keep getting the critique that my main character, Dru, (in Prince(ss)) is a little bit boring. Funny--but kinda boring anyway.

Here are the notes I wrote up about Dru before I started the book:

Hero) Dru (Drustan). Prince of Serilda. A "coaster." Does well with his tutors to avoid getting into trouble, but kind of boring. Desires to please everyone, to make everyone calm and happy. He wants to appease and gratify the whole world. At every turn, this motive should be doubted. He will go through with this stupid idea of his mother's and lie to her to keep her happy. He must learn that lying to keep people happy is a cheater's way. He doesn't want to be King because being King is a hard job, and he doesn't want to decide the path of the whole kingdom. He will eventually bring about the end of the monarchy and set forth a constitution with an electoral government. It will not be the easy path, however, nor the cheater's way.

Oh, yeah. I meant to do that. Make him boring, I mean.

Now, what I wonder is: how do you make a boring character interesting?

I tried to solve this by making the other characters as interesting as possible, and the situation, dialogue, etc. interesting, fast-paced, well-drawn.

Heroine) Phil (Panphila). Electress. A striver. A girl born without privilege. Desires to go to college, have a successful career, and make up for her mother's death and the awkward place she has in her family and the world. To prove she's worthy of being missed. Marriage to Dru would sideline a lot of this, but there's a mercenary streak in her that sees that as a way to impress her family and bring forth a huge change in the world, by influencing Dru.

(Which I kind of forgot as I wrote. I did the character sketches ages before I got down to the brass tacks. I like how Phil changed in the writing--her motivations are more complex, for starters--though I may reincorporate a little of this as I finish the book and rewrite it.)

Sidekick A) Gro. Caught between two worlds, several times over--from tech world and Serilda, mom and dad, princess and commoner. Wants to find a permanent home, create a permanent family. Not to have to transition between worlds all the time. Make her own way in the world on her own merits, and not be "the girl." She will be the first elected president of Serilda.

Sidekick B) Ches. The stepbrother. Goofball. Underestimated by Dru. Desires to grow up, really, and to be allowed to do his own thing, even if it's to follow Dru around, and be a bit of a nerd-bum.

Sidekick C) Jesper. The bodyguard. Mysterious, but only because of his job. Actually, just looking for a family, like the rest of us.

The critiquers who've seen the book (all or in part) do seem to feel that the rest makes up for the boring main character, but I wonder.

I also sort of wonder: how would you make a boring dude interesting for the purposes of fiction? And I don't mean, "Make him interesting." I mean, take a boring person and actually make it fascinating, to wonder what's going to happen next?

I may very well be writing beyond my skill level, in this.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:44 am (UTC)
I've got a similar problem, and I don't know if I'm bringing it off. Might be failing miserably.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)

What I now wonder is, why did I think this was a good way to go when starting this book???
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:01 am (UTC)
Anthony Powell did it in his series "A Dance to the Music of Time." One character, Kenneth Widmerpool, makes every belief system he takes up boring. (This may not be difficult with Fascism and Communism, but it takes some talen to make the very idea of sex magic boring.) He also makes everything else he talks about boring.

And yet he's not boring to read about.

I don't know how Powell did it, unfortunately.
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)
A character might be boring but if they're not bored, then reading about them in the pursuit of whatever they're interested in can still be engaging.

Cozy mysteries do this a lot -- the protagonist is the most boring, everyday, ordinary person ever, but they're caught up in a dramatic event, and they're passionate about resolving it. Even in real life, someone who seems quite bland can be fascinating if you can get them to talk about what they're most interested in.

IMO, it's more about the motivation than the inherent interest-level of the character.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
Excellent points...
Jun. 22nd, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I have some thoughts about this but no time to write them in. Many boring people are often busy.
Jun. 22nd, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
Well, the story is mainly about his problems, so having him as the protagonist and viewpoint character isn't so much of an issue. And you can keep the boring character interesting by having (very few) moments of non-boringness. Say, like there are the crucial moments where suddenly Dru does the decisive thing (like falling from the ship). Keep them few and far between, and quickly done (little foreshadowing and buildup) and you end up with a character that for the most part is boring, but you never know what they'll do next.

Say, like the 3 o'clock drunk that always sits by the door of the tavern. Few pay him any attention. He's just a lump of a dirty cloak by the door. Until the big fracas, and as the bad guys go to escape a knife comes darting out from under the cloak killing the bad guy leader while everybody's attention is focused elsewhere.
Jun. 22nd, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
Beyond my skill level
I think the problem is that "boring" is not actually a personality trait. Is he "a bore". Shakespeare's Polonius is a famous lliterary bore, but fun to read. Is he "conventional?" or "straightlaced?" quiet? Shy; unintelligent? Not creative? If you figure out what is boring about him you'll have it.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
Huh. I thought about this all through dinner. Here's what I came up with:
So I really like slice of life books like Anne of Green Gables and Cranford which could and have been labeled boring by my friends for the lack of plot...some of my favorite characters are boring...often times I feel like the "boring" makes a character more relatable. You recognize yourself or someone you know. The narrator does a lot Mr. and Mrs. Bridge are possibly the most boring couple ever but because of the way the book is written their story becomes a tragic satire.

And I don't think being a people pleaser is boring because there's a lot of conflict in there. How do you prioritize who to please?
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
I don't think being a people pleaser is boring because there's a lot of conflict in there. How do you prioritize who to please?

That's a good point--and it's doubly good because it made me realize what makes a person boring is, in part, lack of conflict.

*goes back to corner to mull some more*
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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