1. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Superficial characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mashers, Jul 16, 2017.

    My story has several main characters, and I am aiming to give them really clear and distinct personalities and back stories. I want them to be deep and relatable to the extent that I am able to accomplish this.

    I also have a couple of other minor characters who don’t interact with the main cast at all. They only appear in a couple of chapters. However, their actions and dialogue ‘behind the scenes’ are crucial to the plot. Since these characters are so fleeting, is it necessary for me to provide depth and context for them, or is it sufficient to have this implied by their actions in the parts in which they appear? It is very clear what their purpose is, what their motives are, and how they are feeling at that time. I just don’t know if this is sufficient for these characters, or if this would be considered too superficial if I don’t also give them personalities.
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    When you say "provide depth and context" do you mean provide it to the reader, or know it yourself? I certainly don't think that you need to provide it to the reader if it isn't relevant. Whether you need to know it yourself feels sort of It Depends. How secondary are these characters?
     
  3. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Thanks for your reply! I really meant provide it to the reader. I kind of know it myself, in that I have a feel for their personalities and how that affects their communication and actions, but I certainly don't know these characters in as personal a way as my MCs.

    Perhaps an example would help. One character is a technician who maintains a set of artificial intelligences. He notices an error in one of them, and the nature of the error shows the reader that the actions of one of the main characters had the intended effect (you'll have to take my word for it - it is very clear that the two are connected). In one scene, he notices this error, discusses it with a superior, and tests to check that it is really happening. He starts as a timid tech guy, but by the end of the story he end up taking over in a board meeting to explain to the board members why there is no going back from what has happened to the AI. This is all absolutely fundamental to the whole story. Without this, the whole thing falls apart. So in that sense, the character is crucial in that he shows the reader, through his dialogue with others, what has happened and why. But despite this important role he plays, I don't think that he personally is important.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Is the issue that this character, who isn't that important, not only has a personality but also has a character arc, and you're afraid that that is going to be a distraction?

    I know I'm asking more questions than I'm answering, but I'm still feeling fuzzy.
     
  5. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    It's ok - I appreciate you taking the time to ask questions to clarify. I don't know what information you need to give your opinion ;)

    To answer your question, no I'm not concerned that these characters will be a distraction. Their arcs are minor, and although they operate separately from the other characters are not, in my view, a distraction from them. My concern is that readers will find them two dimensional or shallow if I don't provide enough personality, whereas I'm simply not sure that level of detail is required for them.
     
  6. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    You know, this conversation has actually taught me some things about these characters. The tech guy has personality and a small arc - he starts as a timid, geeky guy, and ends up explaining it all to the directors of the company. His superior, who starts off brash and belittling to his 'inferiors' ends up humble, embarrassed by his lack of technical ability, and deferring to the tech. In essence they swap roles - the superior becomes the anxious, timid one, and the lowly tech finds his confidence and his voice. I'm actually happy with this level of depth for these characters.

    The only ones who are really, truly shallow are the directors of the company. And I think I'm ok with that :p
     
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  7. obsidian_cicatrix

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    If your character has a transformative arc, and it appears he has, I wouldn't worry too much about him coming across as two dimensional. As long as his growth is counterbalanced by the understanding of what is is driving that change, a reader will go with it.

    And yes... it's amazing how writing a post about characterisation can help. It's because we have to break the elements down to the lowest dominator in order field opinion from others which, in turn, puts the original query into perspective. ;)
     
  8. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That's very reassuring, thank you.

    Very perceptive, and that's one of the reasons why I bloody love this forum.
     
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  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'd almost worry about the other direction - if you have a minor character who acts one way at the start of the book and a different way at the end of the book, and the reader doesn't see the transition and understand the reasons for it, the character may just come off as behaving inconsistently. Not saying that's the case in your story, but I certainly think it can be an issue.
     
  10. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Good point. I had considered that - I don't want the character to behave in abruptly different ways. The story overall will have about 30 chapters, and these particular characters will be in about four of them. I'll just have to be careful that their behaviour changes gradually through these chapters and that these changes are justified by their situation so that they don't just seem inconsistent.
     
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  11. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I had a minor character that I'd built up a thorough backstory in my head to explain why she was such a terrible person. However, there was no place to organically put that backstory; so although her actions made sense to me, when my editor read it, she was concerned that those actions often seemed extreme and came out of nowhere for your average person in that situation. The character had actually experienced a lot more trauma than the average person, but there was no place in the story to show or tell it without shoehorning it in awkwardly.

    Ultimately I toned the character's more outrageous behavior down so that while she still remained unlikable, she no longer acted batshit crazy for no real reason that the reader could discern.
     
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  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yep, that makes sense, and from what you've described it sounds to me as if this secondary character is only there to elucidate the actions of an MC from an oblique perspective instead of through the MC herself. This is totally fine and should be clear to the reader if done properly. And assuming we know what has happened already, we're more likely to glean information about the MC's actions from the reactions of those around her, rather than focusing on the secondary characters who're providing said information. Think of it like a tour guide describing an important event... we don't care about the guide. They're more of a surrogate than anything else.

    As far as personality and depth goes? I won't worry too much about it. Personality exists without context. Think about every new person who've ever met in your life before. You can get a read on their personality within a few minutes of conversation without needing any of their backstory to clarify what you're experiencing.

    As for this particular character transitioning from timid tech to boardroom hero? That's a change but it isn't too dramatic. It's not like going from a nun to a porn star or anything. Maybe she starts out timid, but after making her discovery she gets a little confidence and colleagues that used to forget she was in the room begin to take notice, ask her more questions, and give her more responsibility, which leads to more success, accolades, etc.

    I wouldn't sweat any of this until you see what it looks like. Especially the backstory. You usually don't need much.
     
  13. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Thanks! Your tour guide analogy was perfect. It summarised this character's role perfectly, and it's nice to hear that you think this can work well and that his plot arc can work within his role. I'm confident I can tick these boxes so hopefully it will work out if I stick to my plan!
     
    Homer Potvin likes this.
  14. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    You can introduce your characters' backstories a bit at a time ... in mine I had several minor characters who wound up playing major roles in the overall plot or subplots. You sound like you have some good character arcs, so dribble out his back story, perhaps in conversations with friends, mostly the way I did it.
     

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