Once in the midst of my greatest Tolkien obsession* I read that the character of Faramir, Sean Bean’s younger brother, suddenly appeared during writing, having not been planned in any way.
Since a recent adittion to my 2019 NaNo novel had sort of started haunting my mind this morning, I have to say I sympathize. Read on for a short roundup of a few weird ways supporting characters can backfire on you as a writer and, if your lucky cricket’s feeling helpful, make the novel better than your wildest dreams.
#1 The Tall, Dark and Handsomes
AKA, characters who appear on the page as juicy as any fantasy you’ve ever had, and steal your poor little writer’s heart. They don’t have to have flowy hair and ninepacks, they don’t even have to be wolf shifters to run away with your heart and other parts, forever. Just try not to let them run away with the plot, too, or we could end up in deep shit.
#2 The Failed Red Herrings
Characters who should have been completely different, but something short-circuited as you were writing them, and now they’re the absolute best. They’re just useless, plotwise. Sometimes they can get their pages’ worth in editing, but most of the time they just. have to. go.
#3 The Dropout Nasties
Characters who should’ve been bad people, but ended up being sorta grey. And now you can’t kill them off, which is the biggest problem of them all. (I honestly believe a novel without a murder isn’t worth my writing time. The British cozy mystery has always been one of the favourite genre in Croatia, nationwide, and more than a few generations were raised watching sunday morning British mysteries. My generation included.) This type of characters carry a vast array of other problems with them to the page, too—most notably that they end up more interesting than the planned focus characters, because ungh. You write and you learn.
#4 The Sidekick Gems
Characters who were supposed to be supporting to the MCs, but they end up stealing the show for more reader than one. (I’m looking at you, Cenka, for this one. It’s not my fault you’re so freaking awesome.) Since it’s already too late in the day, and this post should’ve been up there for a few hours now, I’m gonna blame this character type on a writer’s humble beginnings. And actual housemaid badassery.
So, in the past fourteen days, I’ve had three characters appear in the novel straight out of the categories above. One of whom ended up being an unforseen older sibling to one of my MCs, and, as such, couldn’t be the culprit, even though they would have been awesome for the role. Another one inadvertently picked up some of my favourite human personality traits and, as such, I’m trying to think whether I can use them in one of the sequels, and if—nobody’s perfect—my MCs can kinda sorta adopt him.
Let’s just hope I manage to fill the remaining few plot roles with characters who fit none of the above, because I honestly don’t have enough wordcount left to try to get them adopted, too!
*What, how many people do you know who didn’t go through a Tolkien phase?
Photo by Jeroen Bennick.