Sunday, May 31, 2015

Too Many Characters

Most of the stories I write revolve around a single character.  The story is told from that person's point of view, and he or she is the one who must eventually find resolution.  While this is a natural inclination of mine, it often leads to my shortchanging other characters.  Often times I treat them as throwaways, even when readers love them.

One such character exists in Salvation Day.  During the run up to where the lead character creates the energy necessary to confront God, he has a colleague named Gary.  Gary is a plot device used to move the story forward.  He's gone halfway through the book and never appears again.  However, when I showed this work to a couple of beta-readers, several mentioned wanting to know what happened to Gary - he was a character they rooted for and wanted to find happiness in the end.

This surprised me, for Gary was never meant to be integral to the story.  In fact, I always thought that readers would only empathize with Mike Faulkner, the lead scientist at the heart of the demonic conspiracy.  That Gary captured people's hearts threw me for a loop and made me want to find a way to bring him back for the sequel that I will one day get around to writing.

It made me wonder what other characters I've written in as props that developed into more.  Have I been too careless with bringing in new faces?  Yes, I know that these aren't real people, but they seem real to readers that like them, and it can be jilting when they just up and disappear.  In writing my current novel, Fight Or Flight, I've found that I have a nasty habit of introducing new characters that last for a few pages before vanishing altogether, even if they haven't died.

Am I missing out on some great interaction?  Do I deceive the reader by getting him invested in someone that won't last for long?

This has had the side benefit of making me think through developing my secondary characters as I continue to outline.  I have to find ways to make the reader understand if this person will stick around, or if they're going to get squashed two chapters from now.  Of course, the story isn't always as cooperative as I'd like, and it sometimes spins secondary characters off in directions I never envisioned.

Sometimes it's easy to write people off, whether in real life or in a story.  Doing a better job of figuring out how to make them stay might maintain a greater emotional attachment to the overall novel.  Only my readers have the answer to that.

1 comment:

  1. A similar thing happened to me when I had a few people read the story I'm working on now. A police officer who I wrote a very small part for (mostly because I didn't want to get any lingo wrong and figured I could SORT OF get away with his role in the story if I didn't write much for him). But when I asked people to read him, they wondered what happened to him? It has made me consider a larger part for him or um write him out completely? Hehe. But it's always a surprise to me when certain characters jump out as being very important.