Does Your Story Have the Extraordinary Factor?

Does Your Story Have the Extraordinary Factor?

Does Your Story Have the Extraordinary Factor?Readers want fiction to be extraordinary enough to thrill them with its strangeness and excitement. But they also want it be ordinary enough for them to find aspects they can relate to. How’s a writer supposed to pull off this apparent paradox? How do you make your stories both ordinary and extraordinary?

Is Your Hero Ordinary or Extraordinary?

In general, stories and their heroes fall into two categories:

1. An ordinary character in an extraordinary situation.

In the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is a very ordinary character: a slightly dopey farm kid chafing against his boring life.

LUke Skywalker Tatooine Farm Star Wars

Mark Hamill in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), directed by George Lucas, produced by 20th Century Fox.

But when the droids bring him Princess Leia’s hidden message, he’s forced into the extraordinary situation of fleeing for his life from Imperial troops and joining the underdog Rebel Alliance.

Star Wars New Hope Luke Skywalker Princess Leia Han Solo

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), directed by George Lucas, produced by 20th Century Fox.

2. An extraordinary character interacting with an ordinary world.

In Lisa McCann’s Wake, protagonist Janie Hannagan has to reconcile her extraordinary ability of being able to see other people’s dreams with her need to live a normal life, get good grades, and keep her job at the nursing home.


The contrast between the character and his world is the catalyst that drives your story. An extraordinary character in an extraordinary world is suddenly ordinary (if everyone could see other people’s dreams, Janie would fit right in and McCann wouldn’t have a story), and an ordinary character in an ordinary world is just plain boring (if we’d had to follow Luke around his uncle’s moisture farm for two hours, Star Wars would never have been a hit).

How to Find Your Story’s Extraordinary Factor

The extraordinary element doesn’t have to be bizarre. Jane Austen’s titular Emma was an extraordinary character simply because of her unorthodox beliefs and actions.

Romola Garai Emma Woodhouse

Romola Garai in Emma (2009), directed by Jim O’Hanlon, produced by BBC One.

Patrick O’Brien’s 19th-century nautical world in the Aubrey/Maturin series may not have seemed uncommon to those who lived in 1800, but war, in any century, is always extraordinary.

Master and Commander Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), directed by Peter Weir, produced by Miramax Films.

Ultimately, most characters end up extraordinary in some fashion. (After all, there has to be a reason we chose to tell this character’s story, above all others, right?)

Those that start out ordinary are often transformed by their extraordinary circumstances. Luke started out as a dumb hick and ended up a powerful Jedi. Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin were transformed from historical anonymity to heroes thanks to their adventures in the war with France.

Examine your story to ensure you’ve balanced the ordinary with the extraordinary factor. Finding perfect harmony between the two will produce just the right amount of conflict between the character and his setting—and allow him to both reflect and inspire your readers!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s the extraordinary factor in your story—your protagonist or the conflict in which he finds himself? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. ordinary character in extra-ordinary situation is what I am working on, though of course my ordinary character has powerful magic – but that’s quite ordinary in his world :-))

  2. I’m working on an ordinary character in extraordinary situation, too. My poor MC has been sent back in time without her permission. Yikes!

    Thanks for this post! It’s well timed for me.


  3. @Dolly: I’m working on an ordinary guy too. He has one extraordinary aspect, but it pales beside his extraordinary circumstances.

    @Lyn: Sound like a fun story!

  4. I’m doing the extraordinary guy in the ordinary world. I’m having a lot of fun putting a Dungeons & Dragons Druid in 20th century America.

  5. It’s the juxtaposition of the two factors that makes for great fiction. Sounds like a lot of fun to write!

  6. Oh this is good. I can remember this and now you have me thinking how I can make my character more extraordinary! Thank you!

  7. Extraordinary characters are always fun – and very marketable in these days of super heroes!

  8. My first book as about an ordinary character in an extraordinary situation. Normal kid overcomes over-the-top out-of-this-world evil. My latter book is an extraordinary character (mythological creature) in an ordinary situation (living as a human).

    There’s situational humor in the latter (Crocodile Dundee in New York City). There’s character-based humor in the former (does the ordinary character handle the extraordinary with good humor).

    Thanks for the post!

  9. It’s easy to get thrown by the word “extraordinary.” Makes us think of supernatural lifeforms and phenomena. But really an extraordinary character can just be one who’s unique.

    • Ingrid B. says

      So… if you have an ordinary MC in an extraordinary situation, does this mean your MC should probably have no ‘unique’ characteristics such as more-than-average integrity or exceptionally strong principles…which in itself would almost be making him extraordinary?

      Or is this really more applicable to something like, don’t put a wizard in a magical castle. Put a regular kid with strong principles into that magical castle, or put the wizard into an unmagical household?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        More along the lines of the latter. The idea is to create contrast and allow for growth–either of the character or the world around him. This isn’t a hard and fast rule by any means, but it allows you to create some really great juxtapositions. As I say in the post, most ordinary protagonists end up growing into something pretty extraordinary by the time the story is over–e.g., Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker.

  10. I was recently told the characters in my latest project are all “wacko.”

    I take this to mean “extraordinary.”

  11. Sounds like a logical assumption to me! 😉

  12. I like the ordinary hero who has to dig deep to find the requisite skills that push him into extraordinary circumstances. In romance, with the tightly connected h/h, it’s also good to have one of each type, and show how they each need to move into the other’s world to reach their goals.

    So I have a single mother dealing with terrorists to protect her child, and a covert ops specialist having to deal with the domestic.

  13. Ultimately, even the most extraordinary of characters still have to have an arc of growth. Usually, characters are extraordinary in a trait, but have to learn to be extraordinary in some other way: courage, justice, mercy, etc.

  14. I just came from Mary Anne Gruen’s blog. These are great juxtapositions. I’ve written both types of protagonists. I agree – the character has to be relatable, yet not too ordinary.

  15. Of contrast is great fiction written. And there are all kinds of opportunities for conflict in this one area alone!

  16. Belle L. says

    Yet again you’ve done it with hitting the nail right on the head. I know that I wouldn’t have watched Luke for two hours work around his uncle’s farm, far more exciting watching him in a spaceship with Haun Solo.

  17. You know, I almost think they could have gotten a good movie out of Luke *and* Han wandering around the moisture farm.

  18. What would you classify Harry Potter as? I know he is an extraordinary character, but it kind of goes along with his world that you have magic on your side…

    This one’s going to drive me crazy.

  19. I haven’t read Harry Potter, so I’m not able to say for sure. But I believe he starts out extraordinary person in an ordinary (Muggle) world.

  20. I am starting with an ordinary character in an ordinary world (although fantasized).
    Then, they both grow extraordinary 😉

  21. I just wrote a short story about a self-flagellating priest meeting the Devil. Is that extraordinary enough? 😀

  22. Yep. It’s that guy who is 1500 years old.

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