Main Character Syndrome (MCS) has recently entered the lexicon. Like this year basically is when I first began hearing it regularly, and that means not much because memes circulate in small eddies for a long time before joining the main stream conversation.

MCS describes a person who thinks they are the protagonist of any situation they are in. Its a way of saying a person always thinks they are the most important person in the space. Accusing someone of being a Main Character is a version of saying “Everything’s about you, isn’t it?”

It’s the opposite of NPC (non Player Character) I guess. Which is of course a gaming term that has crossed into general currency and refers to someone who has no inherent value or autonomy or agency in a situation because they are just…you know…background extras.

I’ve been thinking about these terms dramaturgically. The idea of MCS is relative to the notion that we are our own hero in our own saga. We know any given situation from our Point of View (PoV), relative to our experience of it. Why would we not completely think of ourselves as Main Character? I mean, we are following our journey closer than other people by default. We know more about our own pain, desires, secrets and peccadilloes than anyone else on the planet. We generally know enough about ourselves to make sense of our actions. But not always, it must be said. Often we cannot see our own faults, and need someone to reveal these to us. We are constantly jostling for centre stage, and constantly running into roadblocks to our needs. See, feeling like a MCS is not so much a syndrome as a situation normal.

What does this tell us dramaturgically?

—all characters in your work feel like they’re the main character. They are living the fullness of emotion about their lives. They think this story you are telling is about them actually. Even if you don’t award them main character status, their experience of the story is a entire other world sitting just off the stage. This is made very obvious when you unleash your script on a bunch of dedicated actors. None of them will be satisfied with NPC status, nor should they be. They will want to comb your text for clues about their personal hero status, or at least clues to their potential for hero status within the confines of their imagination. Huh. Actors. Roll eyes. God love them.

—Main Characters, just like you, are sometimes unaware they are main characters, perhaps believing they may be mere bystanders in this script. Their reactions to events in your script may not always be of a heroic nature; which may cause other wanna-be Main Characters, blissfully unaware of their non-hero status in the story, to accidentally upstage the real hero .

—there are no NPCs. Your producer cannot afford them for a start; a non sequitur of a character who hangs around the story like a lose thread and to no great purpose. Your audience will be annoyed by them too.

Thank god for Main Characters. Without them stories don’t go anywhere, story arcs are flaccid noodles, audiences walk out at interval, producers go broke, playwriights are confused, and dramaturges like me don’t have fun.

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