both sides of the door

front_of_the_DOOR_by_bikobureI told someone I would put Skata’s next interview up today, and so to keep that promise I’ll attempt to write it up sometime this afternoon. Just now, however, I have another thing to talk about – you could call it a spin-off of Jenny’s latest (and excellent; you should go read it) post, The Sounds That You Hear. Near the beginning, she says that too much modern literature feels like a skeleton – it lacks meat for literary bones. I quite agree with her, and I believe I know one of the main reasons why this is so –

The author forgets that they are writing not just one story, but possibly dozens at a time. I’m not talking about all those half-finished WIP’s you keep in a folder on your desktop (I’m as guilty of this as the next man, and probably moreso) – I’m talking about each story you write. Each single story contains a universe of other stories, and they’re all happening at the same time.

You have a main character, and you see the world of the story through his or her eyes. But what about the other characters? You have to realize – for them, the story is theirs. They are the main character. Too often, I read a novel where the main character is decent, but everyone else is a shadow and falls flat of any emotion or depth whatsoever.

For instance, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is the main character – and yet, for Samwise, it’s about his quest to protect Frodo, no matter what occurs. For Aragorn, it’s about reclaiming the birthright he isn’t sure he wants. For Eowyn, it’s about her desire for valor and adventure. For Legolas, it’s about a completely unnecessary trip with an aggravating dwarf and a smelly human – I kid, I kid. I love Legolas as much as the next person (he just can’t hold a candle to his father).

In my own novel, Natural Disasters, the main character is December – but for Jasper, Natural Disasters is about protecting his family from a girl who could destroy everything he’s worked toward for a thousand years. For Adam, it’s about trying to love a human girl despite the odds. For Mikael, it’s about trying to survive in an ancient, dysfunctional family. For Celia, it’s about trying to live her own life under the shadow of her brothers.

In short, no matter what the story, every character is the main character in their own eyes. It would do not to forget them – our fictional people have a way of making us pay for neglect, be it with a skeleton-novel or a sudden death.


23 thoughts on “both sides of the door

  1. I struggle so much with this problem! My characters usually fall flat because I forget that each one is their own person, not just helpers of the MC. Thank you so much for this post! 🙂

  2. *applauds, heads a standing ovation* As always: brilliant! Do you think it would ever be a problem for a side character to out-shine the main character?

    • Frequently, one of my side characters becomes the main character. There isn’t anything wrong with it, either – I’ve seen it done dozens of times. One thing you have to remember is: What often makes the side character awesome is their POSITION as a minor character. Readers want more of them and they are consistently denied, and so it makes them all the more eager when they DO show up.

  3. Aw, thanks for the love!

    This is a brilliant post, and I’ll flatter your vanity by admitting that I think you’re absolutely right: too few authors take the time (because sometimes it does take a lot of time) to invest in the other characters’ stories. Of course, sometimes they do invest, but too much, and story flounders under its own weight…

    Essentially, if you’re smart and not dumb and pay attention to what you’re doing, writing is a cinch. Eh heh… XD

  4. As always, Mirri, GREAT advice. Sadly, all-too-often nowadays even the main characters are flat. Not many can write anymore. *StephenieMeyercough* (Hey, I’m Mormon, gotta remind people that Twilight is NOT the product of my religion. 😛 Just ’cause she’s LDS doesn’t mean she acts like it. Sorry for my rant, I should probably be more forgiving towards her for ruining my image. XD)

  5. I agree! (Also I love what you and Rana were saying up there… EXACTLY!!) But I have the opposite problem usually–my main character is just there to view the awesomeness of the other characters… And thus my main character likes to fall flat. >.>

    Also unrelated question, re: Shakespeare–have you seen David Tennant as Hamlet? That is all.

    • I am about to burn dinner on the stove, darling, but I wanted to scoot in here anyway. I have read and written stories which required the “main character” to be the eyes through which the reader was able to see the ACTUAL main character of the story. Sometimes the person who is the real focus of the story is better understood through someone else’s eyes, rather than the author and the reader trying to get into his head. It’s a perfectly legitimate method of writing, and if that’s what is needed, go for it!

      • Jenny: (I hope you din’t burn dinner!) Using the POV character as a filter to view the REAL main character is the case for many of my stories, yes. But some of them it’s ABOUT the main character, but he/she just isn’t all that deep/interesting because I am usually way more interested in the side characters who are cooler. Or maybe I just am not good at making someone
        “deep” when I’m in their heads…

        Mirri: Yes, I read some of it. 🙂 I parts were from Vey’s POV too though…

  6. great post, Mirriam! I have to say, most of my characters from my two novels are show-stealers, who love to catch the limelight from my heroes; I have so many stories to each of them, sometimes THE heroes are lost in the middle ;). Perhaps that is what you defined as ‘all those half-finished WIP’s you keep in a folder on your desktop’

    But writing a novel with one skeleton hero, and with little depth is quite unappealing to me, because I generally don’t enjoy a book half as well as when there is that depth, that thing that everyone has a life over their own, and how it all mingles together that sometimes one has to struggle to figure who the main character is. One day, I wish to be able to combine thet cohesive, fast-paced quality of a finished novel, without removing that depth of characters and richness of prose.


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