It is a trope that is often used in fantasy and for a good reason. The main protagonist is thrown into a new world, as clueless as to the threats and wonders it contains. Much like the reader, lending the reader an attachment to this protagonist, the reader learns as the main character learns.
Here are some key tips on writing a character thrown into a new world!
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When Does This Apply?
First, let us establish what kind of character we are talking about.
Quite simply, this applies to any character, who lives an ‘average’ world and is forced into another one that is strangely different. That’s it. If a character has to embrace a new way of living in a curious new world, that qualifies them for the advice I will give on writing them.
The reason it is such a common trope is clear. A character who is new to everything has to have everything explained to them, has to adapt and make sense of the new world in order to survive and thrive. In other words, they are the perfect character for the reader to relate to; to learn with.
Creating an Incredible World
Of course, a story such as this allows you to use your imagination to its fullest. You will need to create an entirely new world that might have many or few similarities to our own. With that being said, the differences are sure to stand out and have a profound effect on your character.
The interactions your character has with the world will no doubt play a part in how your reader perceives the world as well.
Personally, I happily encourage any writer who wants to write something such as a hidden world/society to take their time designing it. Step away from the plot and the characters and immerse yourself in the ideas you have for a unique world. Talk about the structure of society, the way it looks, the way it smells, develop an entire culture and if you have enough time and interest, create an entire language.
Well, perhaps not an entire language, but certainly some slang and jargon that can be used throughout the story. You will find that often gets the readers excited as well, as long as you don’t intimidate them with a plethora of fantasy verbiage from the very beginning.
That being said, such a world makes this trope a lot more interesting and immersive. Your character will feel like they stepped into an entirely new world, rather than one with a few differences. It adds to that lost-and-bewildered feeling that the main character feels at the start and further underlines their growth when they become a lot more comfortable with the world by the story's end.
The Character Personality
While the character's personality may vary depending on the story you are trying to tell, generally, the main character will grow to understand the world and draw their own conclusions. These conclusions often become the reader’s conclusions as well, so personality and decisions are truly important.
For example, if the main character has a pessimistic personality, the grim view they have of the new world can easily have an effect on the reader’s view as well. Thus, what can come off as a positive world with a different character can also appear as a negative one.
With that in mind, when developing your main character, make sure that they feel and understand what you want the reader to feel and understand. If you want a character to be trusted by the reader, you must have the character trust them first.
Use this not only as a way to create a more interesting character but as a tool to tell your story with.
With That Being Said…
...you also don’t want your character to be led and moulded so easily. Their personality and desires should affect what they do more than anything else. If you have to force your character to change to suit the story, then there must be something wrong with your character in the beginning or with your story from thereon.
Such clashes are common in all forms of literature but can be easily avoided with some careful planning and understanding of what is important to your plot.
Writing Their Motivation
That brings us to the core of this article.
No matter the genre, or the character, they need to have the motivation to do the things they do. Like most people, they will need to have a personal reason or even a professional reason, to play their role.
For example, our character is thrown into a world that is in jeopardy. The character is the only one that can save it. Why should they save it? The answer to that question is their motivation, it is what fuels them and makes sense of their character.
I have several different motivations one can use, so let’s start with number 1.
Motivation Method 1: The MC Fights Friends
A classic method with most novels of this genre is to ensure the MC (the main character) makes friends. These friends become who they wish to protect. Of course, that is if they are threatened by the antagonist of the world. You will see this in many young adult fantasy novels.
Harry Potter for example.
It is a trope that never seems to fail if the writing is good enough. If you wish to make full use of this trope, your MC needs to be someone who doesn’t connect with ‘normal’ people or at least the people around them before they are thrown into a new world. Rather, they struggle to make friends until they meet a band of weirdos the MC can relate to more.
It’s almost as if the main character was destined to make friends that are in mortal danger, or that they wish to help on simple adventures.
It is here the MC shifts from their bad social life to one far more healthy. Of course, it goes without saying, the MC will eventually spend enough time with their new friends that the MC would do anything to keep them out of harm's way. It’s a noble desire, a believable desire, which makes it an excellent character motivation.
Method 2: The MC Wants to Escape Their World
While not used so often in young adult literature, the ‘escape method’ is still a common one. The MC lives a dull life, or perhaps an unfulfilling one. No matter who they are, be it a desk-jockey or a rockstar, the MC finds that the world they are living in just isn’t their cup of tea.
Once more, the MC is thrown into a world of wonder. Perhaps there are advanced technologies or a bit of magic and monsters or even a new perspective thrust upon them. At that moment, the MC goes through a similar shift to the one in method 1. The MC finds that the void within them is filled in this new world and now they wish to stay in it.
To escape from a life that left them down and depressed, the MC finds their motivation. The MC would fight to stay in the world or to find it again if the people aren’t too keen on having them. Either way, the MC now has a place in the world in the story, which gives them the drive to follow the plot.
Once more, if you are writing a story with grand dangers that threaten the entire hidden world, the main character will have sufficient motivation to defend it.
Method 3: The MC Escapes BACK to Their World
While not so common, it is still a fantastic motivation. The MC finds themselves at least mildly content in their world or absolutely loathing their life. Whichever they feel, the MC is then thrown into a world that repulses them or perhaps gives them a new appreciation for the life they once had.
It is then the MC’s desire to escape that pushes them throughout the story. The MC might meet people or creatures that help them along the way, by guiding them through the twisted world. Of course, the antagonist seeks only to do harm to the MC or perhaps keep them in the world, a prisoner, for whatever reason.
If this trope doesn’t sound so familiar, let me remind you of Alice in Wonderland. Alice being one of the most famous of the first MCs to be thrown into the most bizarre and dangerous world. Of course, it is her desire to follow a white rabbit, but this desire is only heightened as she figures only he can help her escape.
Of course, in these novels, you can easily convey a moral message to your reader. Yet, if your MC and world are interesting enough, the reader might not even notice, which is far from a negative.
The need to escape a hostile situation is a relatable one, making the main characters desire to escape back to their own world another great motivation.
Method 4: The MC Fights to Survive
In some novels, the MC is not pulled into the world, but the world comes to them. Through coincidence or fate, the MC is now threatened by something not from their world. Now, this can be something of a problem for the main character, especially if the threat is that of an alien invasion or some alternative dimension of evil doppelgangers.
Of course, that leaves you with the story of a character who wishes to live. The motivation of the character is that they are not safe, that they cannot take their problem to the police or another form of law enforcement to protect them. More likely they will need to side with someone or something else from the same world to help them survive.
A story such as this lacks the emotional attachment that is often sought after in a young adult novel. It is a character motivation that is more realistic and cold, making it more of an adult fantasy novel idea than anything else. However, it is a motivation that can be incredibly fun to read depending on how the novel is written.
The desire to survive is in all of us and following a character's attempts to fight such dangers and preserve their life becomes immediately relatable and thrilling.
Method 5: The MC Has Strong Morals
A final motivation to talk about and quite an interesting one. It is not often that a main character in a novel has such strong moral values that they are the foundation of their motivation, especially in a novel where there is no reason that the MC should do anything for anyone in this new world.
Yet, while the character with strong moral values is not normally the MC, it can make for an interesting novel. A character with such an investment in their beliefs will be touched for whatever reason by an event in the new world. Perhaps a character begs them for aid or a character does something that the MC firmly supports.
In which case, you have motivation.
The MC finds that they have a purpose in this new world, whether it is their own or not. For that reason, the MC will do what they must to stand by their values, following the plot until their work is done or they can do as much as they can. While there is no literal attachment to this world, the MC cannot return to their own in good conscience.
BONUS Method: A Combination of the Above
There is always one reason that the MC decides to play their role in the new world. Perhaps they are trapped in the new world, or the new world is better than their own. Perhaps the people they care about need defending or they feel they should maintain a moral standing.
Whatever the reason is, a second and even a third usually follows. The MC can have a combination of the above methods, although not initially. When thrown into a world the MC’s priority is to orientate themselves, to leave and decide. Sometimes this takes mere moments and sometimes there needs to be a particular event to help them decide.
Yet, eventually, the character makes this decision, they follow the plot the writer has planned out and by the end of it, they usually have more than one reason. Few characters ever stick with their one goal, as often they decide to sacrifice it if only for a moment, to serve another goal.
A character might put their desire to escape a world on hold so they might save a new friend. That is what makes your character human. The only character that comes to mind who had a single motivation throughout their story was Nanny McPhee.
A character who helped children when they needed her, not when they wanted her. When she was no longer needed, she left. While more a magical being than anything else, Nanny McPhee had a moral standing and only that. While she cares for all who she looks after, she only looks after them when they need her and that rule is unbreakable. Yet, even this character I cannot push as a character who is thrown into a new world.
If you wish to create far more interesting MC, place yourself in their shoes and live through their personality. If you do so well enough, you can make their decisions as them, not as yourself, without fault.
Writing characters thrown into a new and interesting world was a trope I took part in with my first book. While I had a selection of main characters to work with, there was one that was literally kidnapped and made a part of a hidden, magical world.
What I learnt from writing that character is that the trope is so common that one needs to put their own spin on it. For me, I decided to not make this character the one-and-only main character. He would serve as an outside perspective, while other main characters simply played their roles as characters who have been living in that hidden world their whole lives.
Now, that’s simply the way I decided to write my character for my first book. If I were to start a new book and make use of the same trope, I would definitely place a level of pressure on them to escape the world as well as to stay in it. I find that the decision to abandon one's world for one that can be harsh and unpredictable is an interesting one, which gives a writer a lot to talk about in the story.
Of course, the real question is what you have planned for your character. I hope this article had all you needed to know on writing such a character and that you enjoyed it!
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!
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