It is possible to have a brilliant novel without having brilliant characters(Maximum Ride, Hunger Games). But unless you're James Patterson or Suzanne Collins, lack of good characters will create a gaping hole in your novel that will be impossible to fill with a good plot or a good setting.
So here are some of the main character problems. I can't really tell you how to get over them, because I'm not a professional or even greatly talented novelist, and my main characters probably suffer from these problems as well. What I'm hoping to do is make you aware of this problem in your own and in others novels.
1.) Who cares?(Lack of relation)
To have a brilliant character, it has to be a character that your readers actually care about. Frankly, there's no point in putting your hero through trials and triumphs if nobody cares that he exists.
One easy way to create a level of feeling between the reader and character is to write in first person. Then your readers are the character, to an extent, and it's hard not to care about someone whose head you are stuck in. Life in the Bubble will be in first person this year.
Your character should be put in relatable situations. By this I don't mean you must have your character limited to doing boring everyday things like doing the dishes and taking out the garbage. Instead, more abstract situations will do, like maybe he fails to earn the approval of someone he respects, or a situation where nobody believes the truth that he speaks.
Be sure to give him some emotion. This should be a given! One of the main problems with Jason, a character from the Heroes of Olympus series from Rick Riordan, is that I didn't know how he felt about anything. If Angel had been reading his mind, it would go something like:
confusion confusion aah monster confusion blank confused
Also, besides that, Jason seems removed and distant throughout the entire book.
You don't have to use fancy nonsense language to make your characters feel something. Just say it. "Jason was sad. Jason was excited. Jason's heart began speeding up and his hands trembled to wipe a strand of blond hair back from his forehead." Whatever. Just give me some emotion.
(You know what, I'm going to use Jason to help me write the rest of this post.)
2.) Help! My supporting characters outshine my main character!
This is actually a common problem.
Supporting characters are often more developed than main characters, because they are free to be themselves throughout the story. MC's have a lot resting on their shoulders. They have to carry the plot, keep the reader engaged, and be thoroughly developed.
Some people believe that it's okay to have perfectly bland MC's and their supporting characters will make up for it. (channels Umbridge.) This. Is. A. Lie.
Your MC's need to be more amazing than your secondaries, or at least around their level. Or else your readers will go "Hey! Forget the MC! Why don't you write a story about THEM?"
To do this, you can add more bulk to your MC, and also take less of the focus off the supporting characters by minimalizing their scenes. I know it kills you to do it, but or else the story's focus gets blurred. You can always write another story about them. And don't promote them to MC either, because all of a sudden your characters have had a revolution and your new MC takes the stage, and pushes your old MC back to become even more two dimensional.
Piper and Leo did that to Jason. I was like...can we get rid of Jason now? (Oh, and I got a peek inside Son of Neptune and was appalled. The focus switches COMPLETELY off J/L/P and goes to Percy and his two brand new Flying, Fun Loving Cohorts. Great. Now there are four completely new slightly undercooked characters for me to feel apathetic about. And it's important to realize that while one character is being developed, all the others take a complete backseat. Can't he develop them all at once and move the story along? Sorry, rant.)
3.) Woe is me! I have had a long tragic past!
People try to add depth to their characters by adding long, tragic, pasts to make readers feel sorry for them. This works to some extent, but don't overdo it. Try to make your characters loveable by what they are doing, not by what other people have done to them.
4.) Ways to Awesome-ify your MC
Everyone could use these. You can start out with the basic character cliches and add depth to them! It's fun and easy!
The Number One Way to Make an Awesome MC:This should be incredibly obvious, but you'd be amazed how many people skip over this.
1. Give readers something to LIKE about him.
Please do this! Some people skip OVER this step, because they think that to make a legit main character there can't be anything likeable or special about him. Not true!
Make him smart! Make him funny! Make him talented at something! Make him incredibly loving to his family! Make him loyal to his friends! Make him brave! Just make him something!
2. Like I said, make him funny. Humor always holds a special part in the human spirit and can make anybody endearing. I'll do another post on how to incorporate humor into your story, in case you're not used to it. He doesn't have to be a clown or a joker, but a slight sense of humor combined with another likable trait is powerful.
3.Give him a dream or a desire. He should want something: whether its from himself, from somebody else, or just from life. Something that keeps him moving. Jason has one of these: To unravel the secrets surrounding his lost memory.
4.Give him negative traits. And don't have his negative side pointed out obviously by himself or other characters, but just have them reveal themselves throughout the story. For example, Harry Potter had anger issues and impatience. Maximum Ride is arrogant, stubborn, and untrusting. Jason....?
5. Give him quirks. A favorite food, a favorite place, a favorite joke...? These add humanity to a character and make him more relatable. This is easier if this is a story set in our world, but a couple quirks are nearly always charming.
This is just a start. If you have any suggestions, put them in the comments! Look out for more posts on humor, hopefully setting and plot, and a post on how to add tragedy without sounding ridiculous.