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How to write an introverted main character with accidental charisma


I’m planning a medieval-style fantasy epic in which a young protagonist is plucked from his humble life, acquires great powers, and ultimately saves his civilisation from the Big Baddie (a politically manipulative dragon). My MC’s personality is quiet, dreamy, introverted, and a little bit quirky. I imagine him as having some mild autism spectrum attributes but will probably play this subtly, if at all, in the written version of the character.

I’m working pretty hard on defining the MC’s motivations clearly, because his tendency is to be passive. He has no ambitions to heroism or adventure and spends the first third of the story just reacting to unusual events (with one important exception). After some terrible things happen, he spends the middle third trying to find answers, but still doesn’t have a clear goal in mind. Only by the last third does he realise that he needs to be a hero and that nobody else can do the heroic thing.

I want to make sure that my MC is not overshadowed by my secondary characters, some of whom seem to be more proactive or have more “colourful” personalities which the reader might naturally find more interesting. In particular, I want to convey that other characters are drawn to the MC, not because he’s conventionally charismatic but because of a special something that makes people like him and want to help him, perhaps without realising why. Local folks are starting to put their hope in him by the middle third and he's a full-blown national icon and rallying point by the end, despite him just trying to get on with the job of fixing the world with his growing magical powers. He's not interested in fame - he just does what he needs to do in the moment, based on what knowledge and ability he has.

My question might actually be twofold because I don’t know the answers to either of these things: What aspect of his personality gives him this compelling something, exactly? How do I convey that in my third-person narrative? (by which I think I mean, How do I make the reader feel the same way about him?)

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4 answers


That he has no ambitions to heroism or adventure doesn't mean he has no ambitions at all. It just means that his ambitions are of a different type. Maybe he has the ambition to learn everything he can about the plants in his surrounding. Not because he plans to do something specific with that knowledge, but just because he's interested in plants. That certainly would be a nerdy thing to do.

But the fact that he knows so much about plants means also that he is an authority at their healing properties, not in the sense that he actually provides healing services, but if you ask him about if he knows about a plant that helps with headache, he will happily tell you about the plant that grows in the next valley, which is known for its extraordinary headache healing properties. Not because of a drive to help you, but because it is an opportunity to share his knowledge with someone interested in it. Indeed, he will tell you far more about the plant than you want to know, and you'll have problems to stop him. Note that he won't go out and get you that plant, he'll just tell you everything about it.

So he has knowledge that is helpful to others, and is willing to share that knowledge. Although he doesn't share in order to help, he in fact does help by sharing, and that is an attractive feature.

Of course the plants thing is just an example; it't just that he has a passion, and that passion happens to be useful to others, and that earns him the respect of others, even though he himself doesn't do it to impress or please others.

Note also that he won't ever realise that he must be a hero. He will realise that he has to do that heroic thing, but he doesn't see it as a heroic thing, he just sees it as a thing he has to do. But there's this problem, and that problem simply won't go away unless he does something about it. Maybe he doesn't even see the actual size of the problem; maybe his special knowledge shows him a seemingly simple way to deal with it. It's just a test of his knowledge, a possibility to apply it, and it seems easy to do. When it turns out to not be that easy after all, he's already committed to doing that thing.


We both landed on plants, heheh. ‭DPT‭ 6 months ago

I like this because it resonates with ideas that I already have about the character. He does have a passion – he’s obsessed with a certain race of magical Creatures that many people believe to be extinct. Has been since childhood. And (for world-magic reasons) this obsession is part of what leads those Creatures to basically kidnap him, and then start teaching him the magical skills he will use and develop later. Now I'm starting to see how I can put this to more use. Thanks! ‭xtal‭ 6 months ago


The way you make a reader feel anything about a character is by how he acts. You can try telling the reader stuff about him that is contrary to how he acts, but it won't work. The reader will still judge him, will still feel interested in following him, or not, based on how he acts.

So this makes what you are trying to do very difficult. You want your hero to spend the first two thirds of the book behaving not like a hero, and still have the reader think of him as a hero. That is going to be tough to do.

The toughest part of this, though, is not going to be the character's introversion, or their nerdiness. It is going to be their indifference. Indifference to great events is not an appealing or even interesting characteristic in anybody, least of all a literary hero.

But not every quest has to be the quest. Not every protagonist has to set out to save the world, even if they pivot to saving it in the end. But they do have to have some desire, some goal in mind, some wrong to right, some heart to change, or they are just not interesting.

So, rather than thinking of your hero in such negative terms for the first two thirds, figure out what else it is that they care about, that they are working for, while the dragon is going about fricasseeing the countryside. But, since you are intending to pivot to him being the uber-hero at the end, figure out why the pursuit of his non-dragon related goal in the first two thirds of the book leads him inevitably to the pivot to dragon slaying at the end.

A book, to remain interesting, has to have a trajectory, as sense that it is going somewhere in particular, not just meandering around. The end has to belong to the beginning and the middle to the beginning and the end. So in this case, you need to work back from the pivot point and figure out what was the quest before the pivot, and why can the consummation of that quest come only through the pivot. Because if it doesn't, the end won't belong to the beginning, or the middle to either, and the book will not work.

1 comment

This is helpful. I feel like I actually have a lot more figured out so far about his sub-quests, and the point of them, and how they weave together to the final end, than about the guy's actual personality which is still in broad strokes. I think what I'm understanding from the answers here is that I need to spend more time getting inside his head. ‭xtal‭ 6 months ago


Your protagonist's description reminds me of Violet Baudelaire in the opening chapters of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

She was an inventor, and she was well drawn. Which is to say, she had easily-envisioned personality traits and mannerisms, such as tying her hair with a ribbon every time she invented something.

She was distinctive, and this is what draws readers to her.

Answer #1:

Give your character distinctions. Give your character a few traits that are unusual, and make those traits specific. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head. Brainstorm some yourself too.

~~ Your character refuses to buy produce, instead goes out of his way to learn what is edible along the local roadways and eats that as he travels. Sometimes he makes a mistake and becomes ill, to good story-effect.

~~ Your character collects something odd, like moths. Not living moths, mind you, because living moths perform invaluable ecosystem services which your character knows backward and forward (and shares with all comers). No, your character collects dead moths. He recently found a (rare moth) from (strange land) dead on a cart. He collects it and wonders what it means, perhaps deducing something clever and story related.

~~ Your character is kind to his elders. He is kind. When others are annoyed by old people, he sees what is in the elders, worth kindness. (And besides, he is a kind soul). Perhaps the elderly are like moths, to him, in how others don't value them as they should. (Hopefully your protagonist does not collect them.)

The important point is to give him some specific, recurring, intriguing, and relevant trait, something unusual that hopefully impacts the story itself and is not simply a random descriptive element. Like Violet's inventive nature.

Answer #2:

More broadly, find characters in your own reading that have some element of what you are searching for, and ask yourself what it is that makes it work. Approach it as a puzzle. Why does A Series of Unfortunate Events work? It does not follow conventional rules. Maybe it is the humor. Maybe it is the voice. Maybe it is the episodic nature of the series. And so on. Why does Violet, as a character, work? (Or find your own examples.)

1 comment

I actually got this idea for the character by watching somebody I know in real life, but I wasn't able to put my finger on how it works for him. Your brainstorm points are giving me some clues. And I never finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, but that was many years ago... it's probably due for a revisit! ‭xtal‭ 6 months ago


Interesting question.

I read a book (don't remember which) by a female author told from a female character's viewpoint. In this book, the (I believe middle-aged) female viewpoint character has a young man in her circle of friends and acquaintances, who is nice and attractive, but unaware of his effect on the females around him. He does not have low self-esteem and isn't afraid of women, but simply isn't a braggart and aggressive womanizer. He is shy, introverted, and kind, instead of cocky.

I know many such men and women in real life, who are attractive, warm-hearted, and full of joy, but without the arrogance and aggressiveness of those how cash in on their looks. In the book, the protagonist thought that her young male acquaintance "was unaware of how good he looks". And that, I think is what makes these kind of people such a joy to be around for me. They don't expect you to want to have sex with them and therefore don't need a wall of unfriendliness to keep unwanted attention away, insead they smile at everyone and thus disarm even the most creepy lecher.


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