Sensible Shoes is off tonight with family and deadline obligations and asked me to pinch hit. So I'm knocking the dirt off my cleats with the bat and getting ready to dig in at the plate.
The intellectual plate, that is. I've already dug in plenty at the gastronomical plate over the last two weeks. And I was always picked last for baseball, volleyball, and every other sport.
I've been thinking a lot about character development recently, while avoiding writing with the noble excuse that I was Reading Significant, or at least Talked-About, Fiction, namely The Hunger Games trilogy AND American Gods. Not so much the character of the main characters, but the characters of the extras and the bit players.
In some fiction, the point of the minor characters is that they don't have individual character. They're the suffering masses, the mindless crowd, the villagers with the torches in Frankenstein, the Imperial Storm Troopers in Star Wars, the orcs in The Lord of The Rings. Essentially scenery or alternatively a bit of a copout, depending on the story.
At the other extreme, there are writers like Georgette Heyer, who uses almost every minor character as a specific individual to illustrate the society she's writing about (early 19th century England). In The Grand Sophy, the heroine has to go meet with a lowlife to retrieve a ring her cousin has pledged. So she takes a cab to his lair. We meet the cabdriver for exactly one page, but we get a good look at him:
Sophy next hailed a passing cab and desired the coachman to drive her to Bear Alley. The vehicle she selected was by no means the first or the smartest which lumbered past her, but it was driven by the most prepossessing jarvey. He was a burly, middle-aged man, with a rubicund and jovial countenance, in whom Sophy felt that she might repose a certain degree of confidence, this belief being strengthened by the manner in which he received her order. After eying her shrewdly and stroking his chin with one mittened hand, he gave it as his opinion that she had mistaken the direction, Bear Alley not being, to his way of thinking, the sort of locality to which a lady of her quality would wish to be taken.Some stories present technical challenges in characterization. In the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, the central conceit is a long-drawn-out fight to the death among 24 teenaged characters, most of whom are sacrificial lambs picked at random, a la Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery. Only one is supposed (oops! spoiler alert!) to survive after many days and nights of stalking each other, forming temporary alliances, and also getting killed off by random vicious beasts and floods and so on. Two of the 24 are protagonists whom we've already met. It would run counter to the theme of the books (IMO) to make their adversaries faceless, but 22 minor characters present a hell of a challenge for the writer to present. I think Collins does a great job in giving each an individual identity and character which the reader can remember. At first she identifies them by their district; there's a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts, and we're getting to know about many of the districts (one is primarily mining, another agriculture, another fishing, etc.). She designates the "Volunteers;" kids from the elite districts, trained as warriors and who volunteered to be in the Hunger Games (naturally everyone else hates them). A few of the others are described as noticeably weak or even physically disabled and aware that they're doomed; they die early and offstage, which is a relief. And of the others, one girl is extraordinarily resourceful; another is a talented evader; one boy is both physically powerful and intelligent. They're all victims, but they're not faceless victims, and you feel it when they die.
"No, is it a back slum?" asked Sophy.
"It ain't the place for a young lady," repeated the jarvey, declining to commit himself on this point. He added that he had daughters of his own, begging her pardon.
It's something to think about in the story you're telling, when it's not confined to just a few people on an island. Are some minor characters just scenery? If so, are you using them to contrast with or to mirror a main character's situation? Or are you just pasting them up there like the fake people in the fake town at the end of Blazing Saddles? Can you do something more interesting with them?
Tonight's Challenge, which has to do with major character development:
The protagonist in one of the following scenarios writes a letter to his/her mother about his/her antagonist. Or the antagonist writes the letter, about the protagonist. Or, of course, use some other well known protagonist/antagonist pair. Try to keep it to 100-150 words:
*Belinda learns that her rival Adelaide is plotting to marry Belinda’s beloved Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh (pronounced Puppy) in order to get her hands on his jeweled sash.
*A callow youth gets the chance to obtain the Jewel of Togwogmagog and save the kingdom, aided by his Stout Companion.
*Goodwife Thankful Goodheart is feeding her hens and minding her own business when she sees that awful Agnes Addlepate giving her the evil eye.
*A stranger has come to the Wiltchester Dragon Farm, wanting to buy a baby dragon, but ace dragon breeder Jocasta Entwhistle doesn’t trust him one bit.
*Private investigator Celia Spunk realizes that her client is really the Chainsmoke Killer.