If you're anything like me, you love your Protagonist.
You spend days, maybe even months, creating this little person who is going to be the heart and soul of your novels and you love them to death.
There's a reason they're called the main character.
Yes, we love all our characters in their own way, but our MCs have tough jobs.
They're the ones that do the most growing, that suffer the most loss, and eventually go back to a world that is nothing like it used to be. Not to mention they're the ones we want our readers to sympathize with, root for, and love more than any of the others.
They already have it pretty tough.
However, it's that mentality that causes us, writers, to take away the very scenes that make our MC "real".
As writers, we tend to be too nice to our MCs. We put them in a bubble throughout the story and let our minor characters handle the less desirable plot points.
And I'm not talking about their painful backstory or the abusive relationship they are currently enduring. I'm talking about the role of "Bad Guy". I'm talking about the mistakes and active choices real people make in difficult circumstances that leave them looking less than admirable.
We make our MCs poster children. Flawless, perfect, and boring.
Because of this, our MC ends up taking a back seat in the narrative. Which doesn't make any sense.
It is the character development that our main characters go through that carries our readers and helps them connect with our stories emotionally. It is what carries our theme. Without it, our stories suffer.
Surprisingly enough, it is the negative aspects of our character's natures that help their positive qualities really shine.
#1 Let Your MC Lose
Seriously. Let them lose. Loss teaches people so much and is so relatable to readers.
And I don't mean the small loses. Like, losing a game of chess to the best friend character or something. That kind of thing might be fun to write and to read, but, right now, I am talking about the big loses. The ones that make your MC question their worth as the hero of the story.
These kinds of loses usually entail the death of a friend or loved one. They make the MC crumble in on themselves as they struggle with all the world has taken from them.
If you want to take it one step further, make the MC directly responsible for the death. Such as having them chose to go into a trap after having been warned against it. Or have them make a deal with an enemy even when they knew they couldn't be trusted. It has to be something that they can say "This was my fault" to and have the reader (at least partially) agree.
Of course, that's not the only way to go with this. You're MC can lose something else important to them. A friendship, the trust of a loved one, the object that is the source of their superpowers; there are a lot of options to chose from.
The key is to make it big and make it their fault.
#2 Let Your MC Do The Wrong Thing
This isn't the kind of accidental wrong like the ones mentioned above. In those cases, it could be argued that the MCs altruistic nature was to blame for the loss they suffered.
In this case, the wrongs committed are things everyone knows are wrong. They are the times when the character lies, when they steal or when they betray their friends. Yes, they probably have a "good" reason. Even so, they know, and the reader knows, that they are just fooling themselves.
These are the times when the reader shakes their head and asks the character "what are you doing", without ever receiving a reasonable answer. There just isn't any excuse for that kind of behavior.
Their betrayal of the right path destroys trust, costs them friends, and makes them doubt their own worth as a hero.
And these moments are vital to character development.
Without them, our MCs would become "perfect" people who were completely unrelatable.
They have an added bonus as well as they set up our MCs triumphant return to the path of righteousness.
#3 Force Your MC to Make a Terrible Choice
Life is all about choices.
Some are easy.
Some are hard.
And some are absolutely devastating.
Chose wrong and the ripple effect can take destroy everything you care about. Which is exactly what needs to happen to a good MC.
MCs need a chance to make the wrong choices because it is their path after they make those choices that bring about their character development.
When faced with tough decisions most people panic and end up making the wrong call. Even people who have dealt with difficult choices before can't be sure how they'll react to the pressure when they're faced with a new one.
Since our main characters are supposed to mimic real people, they have to make similar bad choices.
Perhaps your MC is tasked with choosing between one path and the other. Perhaps they are faced with whether to fight or retreat. Whatever the case, they end up making the wrong call, leaving their leadership in question.
As you can see, this list will leave your main characters looking less than sparkly.
In fact, these are things the villain would do. (Hence, the title of the post.)
That is it exactly. You have to let your MC be a little villainous, as all people are. To give them the chance to take the same path as your antagonist, because it is the fact that they don't take that path, the fact that they chose a better way, that makes them the "good guy".
If you can think of an example where an MC takes the wrong path in a novel, whether they keep on that path or have a triumphant return, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
*This post is a re-write that was previously published on One Beginner to Another (old).