If you follow football, or for that matter, if you’ve ever seen any commercial, ever, you know who Peyton Manning is. For those that don’t, he’s the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, which also happens to be my favorite sports team. Manning is one of those rare athletes who came out of college with high expectations and managed to not only meet them, but completely blow them away. He’s won the league MVP award four times. No one else has ever won it more than twice. He belongs in conversations with the likes of Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana. Or to put it another way: they belong in conversations with him. In short, he’s arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game.
And he’s hurt.
Manning, who in thirteen previous seasons had never missed a start and had only missed one snap due to injury,* is out probably for the season due to complications following neck surgery in the off-season. No problem, right? He’s just one guy, right? How important can he be?
The Colts are currently 0-5 and last week blew a seventeen-point lead at home. They haven’t shown any signs of improvement, either. In fact, sadly, they’re probably already playing the best football they can.
So what happened, and what does this have to do with writing?
Well, Manning is clearly the protagonist of this team, and he’s also not only their most valuable player, but his worth has never been more evident. His very presence turns mediocre players into Pro-Bowlers, and Pro-Bowlers into future Hall of Famers, even on defense. He compensates for shortcomings and hides weaknesses. His will and force of character pervades the entire team and turns a 6-10 ball club into perennial Super Bowl contenders.
And that’s what your Main Character has to do.
Your MC is your novel’s MVP. It doesn’t matter how strong your prose is or how fantastic your plot is, or even the originality of the concept, if your MC is dull, generic, or clichéd, he’ll drag your whole MS down with him. On the other hand, a strong MC can turn a pedestrian tale into an enduring classic. Think about your favorite books, the ones you truly adore. What made you fall in love with them? The plot? The sentence construction? Or were they peopled with lively, original, three-dimensional characters so real you could almost have a conversation with them?
Stories are the life blood of humanity; they truly separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet without a Don Quixote, a Holden Caulfield, or an Odysseus, without a living, breathing person to root for (or against), the plot is just a bunch of things that happen.
Who is the MVP of your novel? If it’s not the MC, who is it and why?
*a broken jaw(!)