Friday, April 5, 2013

Character Development - Day 4: Be careful of showboating secondary characters

When I used to do theatre (this was before kids and an unbelievable busy life) one of the things we would always talk about was the difficulty of performing when there were kids on the stage. Why? For the simple fact that our egos really struggled when the rest of the audience spent more time looking at the kids and not enough time looking at us. This really hit me when I was in a production of The Sound Of Music. Now, you may be asking, why am I bringing up this piece of information? Because your secondary characters in your stories cannot go stealing the scene from your protagonists.

When your secondary characters are more memorable than your main characters, you end up with a huge problem. First of all, there will be a big disconnect between the plot line and their lives. You never intended for them to be in the way but now, they are causing the reader to miss critical points in the story. Secondly, because they are just the supporting cast, you likely aren't giving the reader a lot of backstory for them. That's fine, they aren't supposed to have it, but because they are so large in the story, we now feel as if there are holes in the plot.

I do think that many authors have these characters because they are hung up on the idea that they need to write a series and they are setting things up for those later characters and their book. This is a huge mistake. The goal is to focus on the main characters in the book you are working on and allow there to be a natural flow of the secondary characters throughout the story. Look, quit focusing on book 2 or 3, focus on book 1.

These other characters should function, in many ways, as simply talking pieces of scenery. Their jobs, their sex, their marital status, and their backstory is not necessary at all. In fact, we should be able to change these characters around at any time and still get the same effect.

So, how big are your secondary characters. Remind them, every now and then, that this is not their time to shine!

1 comment:

  1. Again, I want to thank you for this series. It has helped me to understand several points I almost “got” but not quite. I like your straight forward explanations. No wiggle waggle.

    So here goes. I have one really big question that I just can’t seem to get a good straight answer to. And maybe, it’s because I’m not really getting any straight answers. Hopefully, I’m not listening at a slant.

    But seriously, I am having trouble with character “introspection”. I keep running into different camps of thought on this matter. #1 camp says adding a character’s thoughts is great. Reveals more about the character. Do it. #2 Camp says that introspection runs into the realm of telling vs. showing and telling is a no-no. Writing should be active. Find another way to reveal the character.

    What am I missing? And, if this series is not the time and place to ask my question, my apologies. Please disregard. --Kate