5 Awkward Situations to Make Your MC Shine

Ah, the joys of writing life! In the middle of editing Girl of Glass and Fury (an ongoing endeavor) and reading great books like The Theft of Sunlight, I realized one common thread that makes characters instantly endearing: awkwardness. A special feature was born!


5 Awkward Situations to Make Your Main Character Shine

Since not every character can have the same traits, I started noticing how authors get around this. Awkward situations put a chink in the armor of an otherwise confident and strong character, leaving room for them to rise above, fail miserably (or endearingly) and allow the reader to feel closer to the character.

  1. They lack experience almost everybody has

A late first kiss. An inability to ride in a world of horses. A lack of taste at a highly refined court.

These are just a few of the circumstances that make characters instantly endearing (as long as they know what they don’t know, of course). Characters in these situations allow the reader to travel along with them on their journey. As long as the circumstances aren’t pitiable (think of Daine in Wild Magic, unable to read because of her isolated upbringing), they can bring the reader closer to your main character. Heck, your readers probably root for your MC all the more.

Awkward Main Characters are vulnerable, human and relatable. With the right balance, they can walk the line between cringe-worthy and loveable, especially in a would-be romantic situation. (Think Mr. Darcy.)

  1. A new setting is a lot more complex than they ever thought

When your MC is a fish out of water, it’s the details that really count.

In Intisar Khanani’s The Theft of Sunlight, narrator Rae arrives at court to stay with her cousin. But she has another mission: after a tragedy at home, she arrives with a question about what the government is doing to track the snatchers and help recover stolen children. All of this involves more opportunities, danger and perilous politics than she ever imagines. Yet it’s the moments in which she’s drowning in lace, and the one in which she realizes just what kind of person is helping her (he’s not as savory as country girl Rae had hoped), that we feel the most sympathy for her.

Rae’s life as the hard-working daughter of a horse rancher leaves her out of her depth in the alternately fancy and gritty capital. It’s these little scenes that endear her to readers, even more than her instances of bravery and her drive to do what’s right. We all know what it’s like to make it through any number of complex hard times, only to be overwhelmed by one detail too many. Rae’s character is deeply identifiable in those moments.

  1. Everything they know is wrong

There are a lot of ways to play this one. Here are just a few examples:

  • The privileged MC learns how hard the lives of others are; is she brave/foolhardy enough to try to change it? (Thorn, by Intisar Khanani)
  • The privileged MC who plays an active role in it and must repent (The Black Witch, by Laurie Forest) 
  • The struggling MC who must realize she isn’t the only victim (The Dark Angel, by Meredith Ann Pierce
  • The history the MC has been taught leaves out inconvenient truths and puts everyone in danger (yes, it’s a plug, because it’s one of my favorite devices. I used this one myself in Girl of Shadow and Glass)
  • The seriously misjudged social situation that leads to disaster (Jane Austen’s eternal classic, Pride and Prejudice)
  • The villain isn’t who the MC—and everyone at home—thinks (An Enchantment of Thorns, by Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince)
  • The unknown villain who makes things way more serious than the (in this case innocent) narrator ever imagined (The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden)
  • The MC who lands in a secret world (City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty)
  • The MC who realizes she’s not in the “real” world (Between Jobs, by W.R. Gingell doing double-duty in this post)

I’m sure you can think of even more examples of this!

  1. Their job isn’t what they thought

Your character’s job doesn’t have to say anything about them (after all, not everybody can control what they do. There’s a lot of MCs who end up as thieves). Your character’s approach to their job says a lot about them. Watching them change their views on it gives the reader a front-row seat to your MC’s inner character.

(Slight, vague spoiler ahead.)

Take Cleric Chih in The Empress of Salt and Fortune. They begin the story eager to be to the first to document Thriving Fortune, the former residence of the now-deceased Empress In-yo. Instead, Chih gets a tale of a revolution behind closed doors and all the secrets that entails.

Every character needs a flaw, a rude awakening and/or an unexpected outcome. In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih thinks she has it all together until she hears more of Rabbit’s story.

Though Chih blithely tells Rabbit, the part-time narrator of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, that the abbey she comes from holds countless secrets, Chih doesn’t understand just what that means until they’re entrusted with them. By the story’s end, the pride that drove Chih to become the first to learn those secrets ends up making them shudder. As their companion, Almost Brilliant, puts it, Chih is experiencing duty for the first time.

Though the series moves away from Thriving Fortune, that telling change made me want to stick with Chih, who is a mostly passive MC in The Empress of Salt and Fortune, throughout their future travels.

  1. The unreal meets the everyday in their life

In Between Jobs, by W.R. Gingell, we see this happen in both senses: the MC’s everyday is interrupted by the unreal, and then the unreal is interrupted by the everyday.

When Pet ends up as an actual pet of two fae and one vampire who understands won’t speak English (not until he perfects it, anyway), she gets towed through the worlds Between and Behind, spots a sword pretending to be an umbrella, learns a little Korean on the fly and witnesses violent and bizzare battles she can’t understand. Being adaptable, she mostly manages to keep up, even if she can’t grasp everything she sees, and it’s interesting and hilarious to see her developing her new skills, often to the astonishment of her “three psychos.”

As fantastical (and often awkward) as that is, it’s when a policeman starts poking around that things get really interesting. Pet has to explain or redirect him from what was, until recently, unexplainable. She’s seen it with her own eyes, after all. Seeing those two (technically three) worlds constantly clashing, and watching Pet navigate it, makes for one endearing narrator and a very interesting start to The City Between series.

(Of course, you could also go the other way and have the MC blunder through the unreal. Dent Arthur Dent comes to mind.)

Have you ever put your MC into an awkward situation? Let me know in the comments below!

The (overwhelming) truth about releasing an indie book

The (Overwhelming) Truth About Releasing an Indie Book

It’s been a wild 9 days.

Wow. Only 9 days?!

After dipping my toes into the self-publishing world, I released my first full-length novel on January 15th. There were a few differences this time, like that I chose wide distribution (making my book available at many retailers) instead of just Amazon.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Mistakes will be made.

There will never be enough time for last minute read-throughs (and there will be last minute read-throughs). Typos will sneak in, details will be overlooked, and if you’re lucky, you’ll notice them before it’s too late. But guess what? It still won’t be perfect.

Authors with proofreaders, editors, beta-readers and every other professional tool still have mistakes in their books. Traditionally published books have them, too. Take a deep breath, accept it and make a note for your next update. As an indie author, you can change anything you need to.

2. Formatting will be your biggest Challenge.

Accept that the version of your manuscript you format for Amazon KDP will look different than files from other programs (if you use Amazon’s preferred Kindle Create program). Other booksellers may not allow set fonts for chapter titles and other special touches.

This is why I have different editions noted in my copyright page, depending on the bookseller. I list the differently formatted edition as Kindle Edition, Smashwords Edition and a generic digital edition for others without special formatting (Smashwords actually requires the formatting and the language both). I had to do it this way, in the end. Trying to keep my tidy chapter headings and title page only led to frustration and some emails back and forth with customer service.

File converters are not perfect. My chapter headers in particular looked weird when put through the file format converters, and in some cases had unsightly (unprofessional) indents. The end result was not at all like my KDP file. I was ultimately referred to a professional formatter by one site (not in the budget just yet, but looking more appealing all the time!).

Not simple but necessary: File converters can result in unexpected complications—and headaches.

Some file converters offer more options and instructions, though. If you choose a distributor like Smashwords, you will need to save some time to format to their style guide because of it. There is a literal style guide available for download, and while reading it (and obeying it) is very necessary, it’s not as bad as it looks on the outset.

Bonus: when I had formatting issues with another distributor, uploading a version of my file that had received the Smashwords treatment helped resolve some of the formatting issues.

3. It will take longer than you think…and you’ll Wish you could go back to just writing

Okay. Take another deep breath. I am currently in this stage myself. It will all be okay. Soon enough, you’ll be back to endless rounds of editing and trying to remember that perfect word you need, which may or may not actually exist.

The advice from, oh, everywhere, is that practically no writer gets excited about working on their platform. We’re writers. Writing is what we want to do.

Book releases are like platform-building on overdrive.

While I’m still stuck playing catch-up on the promotional whatnot of my book release, I know I’ll be writing again soon. Lack of patience is my biggest weakness as a writer. I suspect that’s true of a lot of creative people, not just writers. If you’re excited about what you do, new ideas and working on what’s next, the last thing you want bogging you down is a W9 and ads that just don’t pop.

For some strange reason, all of that is part of the job, though. And a lot of it will be an ongoing project, just like the books you write.

So take one more deep breath, think of all the skills you’ve acquired in your years of writing, and remind yourself that these are just a few more.

Cheers! And good luck to all you writers out there.


P.S.: As proof that indie writers have more flexibility, my book has a new cover! Stay tuned for the cover reveal for the sequel to Girl of Shadow and Glass, Girl of Glass and Fury.