Sunday 24 May 2020

Nerd Church - The Writer Diaries: One of My Side Characters Is Pouting!

I can't get the side characters from my Work-in-Progress (WIP) to do what I want!

I know, to people who don't write fiction that probably doesn't make much sense. 

Surely, I, as the author, am in control? *laughs in writer* HELL NO!

Sorry to break this to you, but authors have extremely limited control over their characters. 

Essentially we write down what they're doing to the best of our ability... and attempt to cut out any scenes where they're doing sh** they shouldn't. With mixed results.

'One of My Side Characters Is Pouting!' above a bunch of outlined people shapes in different colours - they're arranged so that it looks like they're in a crowd

I have this one side character, Jo. 

And lately she's been acting like a little so-and-so.

And I need her to be more sympathetic, so that any future reader won't hate her guts, but I'm having serious problems developing her.

I think she's pouting, to be perfectly honest.

Because she used to have a significantly larger part, waaaay back in the original form of the story (which has changed a lot,) and she used to be the primary Love Interest.

She's not, now.

Her entire part of the story has been over-shadowed by her little brother, who's stepped to the front, and she's pi**ed off.

Her relationship status is now seriously in jeopardy, too. Because another side character, Ahmed, popped out of nowhere and now somehow there's a love triangle as well... 

See what I mean about the lack of authorial control?!

If, like me, you're writing fiction, you're likely to have side characters.

They might not even be named - the bus driver, the waitress, the pickpocket in the crowd, whatever.

Unless you've got a really tight setting-

(like a room with only two or three people,) 

- and/or format -

(like an epistolary format which manages to not mention any person except addressee and sender,) 

- then you have side characters.

Spongebob, sitting by a desk and then holding up his pencil dramatically (there's sparkles and everything): Prepare to be written!
Via Giphy

The problem is, how much detail do you have to give side characters?

How much do we, as the author, need to know about this side character's life? 

And how much of that do we transfer into the prose itself?

More than that, how do we do this?

How do we formulate characters that may only appear for a scene or two? Do we even need to?

What do we do when they're pouting?!?!?!

I think some side characters are just a plot device - like the bus driver. 

If your character gets on the bus, then the bus is being driven by somebody. 

We may not even be told this explicitly, but, as readers, we know it: if the bus is moving, someone's driving it (and if they're not, we have a whole other plot point!)

If the driver is mentioned, it's likely to be a brief interaction with one or more of the Main Characters (MCs) and generally any interaction with these types of characters are almost entirely about the MCs. 

Of course, you may be writing a story with a recurring bus driver, or a story in which the interaction with the bus driver (I have no idea why I picked the bus driver as my extended example, but let's just go with it,) has more significance.

In which case, the author may need to develop the character more in order to signal to the reader that this character is important, albeit in a lesser degree to the story overall than the MCs are.

As I've said, the problem I have is with these more in-depth side characters - the ones who aren't just a brief plot device, but bring emotional cr*p into it, and/or have a more complex significance.

Because I'm aware that everyone's the hero of their own story. More than that, everyone has importance, y'know? 

It  pi**es me off when guards or soldiers get killed in books or TV shows or whatever, and the MCs just treat it like they got through another level of a video game. 

Like, no - that person had a family, that person didn't know what political sh** was going on, and was just guarding the princess or whatever like they were supposed to.

And fine, you might've had to kill them - but you don't even care..? WTF dude, what kinda hero are you?!

...But that's clearly a long rambling rant for another day!

Maybe that's Jo's problem? She won't help me develop her as a side character, because in her story, she's always gonna be the main character.

(Again, the writers will know what I'm talking about, and everyone else is backing away slowly, but we're all good!)

OK Joey, so you're pi**ed off at being ignored in favour of little bro Sam. Again.

Maybe I can work with that...

Do you struggle with side characters?
Any tips?
Do you know what to do when one of your characters is pouting...?
Talk to me!

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  1. Cee, I so feel this right now! I have just started writing again, and my story has a lot of side characters that I have no idea what to do with! I always struggle with whether or not I am developing these characters enough. Sometimes I feel bad if I’m not giving them the attention they maybe need lol.

    Hope you figure out your dilemma! Sadly I don’t think I have many tips.

  2. How frustrating, but also I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a bit amusing. I love that these characters truly live a life of their own that you are really just documenting. Hopefully Jo becomes a bit more cooperative soon!

    1. I think frustrating and amusing sums the whole thing up perfectly! XD (And I'm tempted to bribe her with chocolate ice-cream, at this point! Lol.)


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