Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Which the Author Attempts to Turn a Football Rant into a Post about Writing

peyton-manning-super-bowlIf 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(!)


  1. It's sad to hear Peyton Manning's out for the season due to physical injury.

    I agree the characters carry the weight of a story. They need to evoke empathy from readers and keep their attention engaged until the last page. It's a big responsibility. A responsibility that lies in the hands of the writer as well. My MVPs are usually strong, yet flawed females.

  2. Nice analogy. The Colts were stupid and never brought in a competent backup. They should have known that as he's getting older, Manning would be more susceptible to injuries. Which to get back to analogy, make sure your main character isn't the only interesting one.

  3. God job Dan :)

    My main character Amy is the MVP of my novel, but she has strong supporting characters too. She's just a tad hard to like because of the choices she makes - has to make to give her growth - and so the other characters have to boost her a bit. But those other characters also need Amy to make their own flaws acceptable. Anyway, that's how I hope I'm writing it :)


  4. Living in the heart of Knoxville, I'm required by law to be a huge Peyton Manning fan. My wife refuses to watch him play because she will all but break down in tears if the Colts lose. He demands that everyone around him work as hard as they can. I have tons of funny Peyton stories from when he was at UT. Ah, I hope he can play until he's fifty.

    Anyway, you're right on about the ship sinking without your MC being something special. Awesome.

  5. I don't really follow American Football but you explained it in such easy and yet powerful terms, it totally applies to writing. I hope your QB (if that's what he is) comes back soon but thanks for the post on writing.

  6. I'm a Vikings fan myself, but I've always had a lot of respect for the Colts. I hate the Pats and the Steelers, so it's nice having someone in the AFC who can stand up to them.

    The thing is though, the Colts are really lucky. They'll probably have their worse season ever this year, but then they'll get to draft Andrew Luck, and they'll have Peyton back next season to mentor him for 2 or 3 years.

    The Viking haven't had a franchise quarterback since Frank Tarkenton.