I’ve just been over on Mary Costello’s blog where Mary allowed me to prattle on about a subject that isn’t much written about. (http://marycostelloauthor.wordpress.com) I was talking about sidekicks and secondary characters and why I think they are winners too and I thought I’d share it here too.
HOORAY FOR SIDEKICKS – an ode to the secondary characters I love.
I’ve recently blogged elsewhere about my love of paranormal books, being a mum and a writer, my love of the romance genre in general and answered a bunch of questions about my writing process and so on. I’ve loved writing all these blogs, and I think they cover really important topics, but I wanted to talk today about something that was a little different.
Everyone always talks about the hero and the heroine, the story arc and main plot, the scene or image that started the story. And I love to hear all those things – and talk about them too. The whys and wherefores, the ins and outs – they are all endlessly fascinating. But what I rarely hear about is the sidekick. The secondary characters.
Those poor duffers who have a life we never hear about. Who often are held up as a mirror/reflector to the main protagonists and their story, often having to suffer through all the misery while gaining none of the glory. I mean, where would Batman be without Robin? Where would Wolverine be without the X-Men? Quite frankly, where would any superhero be without a villain? Or looking back at the classics – where would Elizabeth Bennet be without her family and the multitude of characters that both ruin and enlighten her life? What about Jane Eyre? She would never have got to the end of her book without the honourable Blanche Ingram or her long lost cousins.
And Pip in Great Expectations? What kind of story would he have been in without Mrs Haversham and the escaped prisoner, Abel Magwitch?
In a boring story, that’s where.
Before I was published, a regular comment I used to get from judges or editors or others who read my WIP’s was, ‘I love your secondary characters.’ Well, I think part of the reason they come across so well is I love them too. I can’t leave the wallowing in the dark of obscurity. I want to breathe life into them. They should be funny and empathetic and fully realised, because without them, the hero and heroine have no-one to really talk to, to bounce their woes off, to learn from.
I’m going to go back to one of my favourite TV series that shows exactly what I’m talking about, (mostly because Joss Whedon is a genius with a secondary character and we could all learn a thing or two from him): Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Buffy was a funny, quippy, multi-layered character with great strength but also deeply vulnerable who shone on the screen. However, none of this would have shown up so well if she was surrounded by cardboard cut-out characters. I’m not talking about Angel, because he is Buffy’s hero (although I could wax on here about him being the tortured hero set to redeem himself against the odds and how dreamy that made him – but that’s a whole other blog!) I’m talking about the sidekicks – the Scooby Gang primarily.
Willow could have just been the brainy and dorky best friend, a 2 dimensional character whose sole purpose was to show up and point Buffy in the right direction, and show us how super and kick-arse amazing Buffy really was. But she wasn’t. She showed up Buffy for her flaws as much as for her kick-arse amazingness. Some of the funniest lines in the show were given to her or Xander, even though Buffy was the recognised pop-referrential quipster. And I think the reason the show worked so well as a whole was because all of the secondary characters had their own life and story breathed into them right from the first episode. Willow was the heroine in her own story – a story that often ran parallel to Buffy’s and yet wasn’t on the main page like Buffy’s, but an important story all the same. This was true for Xander and Giles, Cordelia, Spike and so on. As the series grew, the characters were given episodes that focused on their story which just made it so much more worthwhile for me (especially when the unexpected happened in that story – who could forget Cordelia being killed by vampire Willow and Xander when she wished for a life without Buffy?)
For me, the secondary characters come to life at the same time as the hero and the heroine, and even though they may not be telling their story on this page, it is still an important story, and I make sure they have at least one person to tell it to – me. Their stories are all in my head. And luckily for many of them, I love the kinds of novels that extend into series – which means many of them will end up being able to explore their story on the page in their own books.
I have already had a bunch of reviewers love the main romance but then ask if some of their other favourite characters from Dark Moon and Killing Me Softly will get to come out and play – which for me, is so rewarding. I love that readers want these other characters’ stories to be played out for them. Because it means I’ve done my job. It means I’ve breathed life into my whole story, that there is depth beyond the surface picture with a vast, glistening spiderweb of tangled and interconnecting stories underneath. And for me, there can be nothing better than that.
Long live the sidekicks – you are eternally awesome!