This week has been good to me, despite some minor troubles here and there. The good’s outweighed the bad enough that I’m willing to ignore the little frustrations.
I also have to say how I can’t stop thinking about Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s everywhere I look, and for good reason. What a brilliant job Marvel did creating that movie. Tonight’s post isn’t my GotG review, but it ties in a little bit. One of the many, many (so very many) things I loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is how it focused on a group of heroes (move over, Avengers), but it also gave a great deal of love to the supporting characters. Even the ones who were minor in the overall scheme of things were paid their dues. Also, and this is probably my love of villains talking, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for The Collector. No spoilers! Just, you know. He seems like the likable, albeit perpetually stoned, doofus of the Marvel Comics Universe movies.
And so it only seems appropriate to show a little love and support for supporting characters.
Day Twenty-Nine – Love your minor characters
A story can have the most compelling protagonists and antagonists in all of history, but it’ll still fall right on its well-written ass if it lacks a solid ensemble. Yeah. I said it. If audiences are presented with bland, boring, or near-nonexistent supporting characters, boredom is almost sure to follow quickly. I say this not only as a writer, but as someone who is familiar with theater. The leads are the stars that shine brightly, yes, but the supporting cast provide the background light that both helps audiences see how brightly the main characters shine while also enjoying the additional points of focus in a story, play, movie, or whatever.
One of the big things I loved about Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as something that will always make me fall in love with the works of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore (my favorites), and so many others, is how the minor characters are handled. The little people. The one-line-of-dialogue-and-gone folks. Do those characters feel like they are fully realized, even though they only spend so little time as part of the focus? Or could they easily be replaced with what amounts to a cardboard cutout with some speech bubbles placed around them?
I find myself approaching how I handle characters the same way a video game might. This shouldn’t really be shocking to anyone. Video games handle minor characters, at least in many cases, just right. There are some members of the ensemble who serve a greater purpose, and there are some who are there to help the story along, but they all have some depth to them (even if it seems infinitely small compared to everything else). When I approached writing Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King, I ended up building quite a supporting cast. This was partially because the story split the three main characters up for such a long time, and partially because there needed to be more than just Joshua, Marcus, and Amelia. Some of the characters were preformed when I started writing, and others crept into existence as the story progressed (either out of necessity or by popping into my brain at just the right time). Without villains like the sinister General Whyte or bloodthirsty General Tarantella, the plot could have really dragged at times.
And Tymnir…well, I won’t even go there. One of the most throw-away characters turned into such a major point in the story, and my brain apparently works in ways I don’t fully understand while writing.
There’s something genuinely vexing about when a story revolves around one or two characters who essentially do everything while everyone else acts as set dressings. Props with, the audience can only hope, very meaningful lives outside of helping Protagonist A stop Antagonist A.
Please note that having a bunch of people who exist for the sole purpose of dying doesn’t constitute good use of minor characters.
Without compelling minor cast members, the main characters can only do so much. A story can only be so interesting without seeing how the protagonist’s actions shape the world (and the reactions those actions are met with along the way). A strong ensemble, no matter how minor some of the roles may be, helps to create a believable, world, immersing the audience as the story unfolds and bringing them into the events (good and bad) that are driving the protagonist along the way.
And let’s be honest, here, writers (artists, actors, and so on). The ensemble is some of the most fun to write because there’s not nearly as much pressure on what you do with the minor folks as there is with the main characters. So have fun. Populate your worlds with all sorts of diverse, crazy, fun, brilliant people. Sometimes, I’ve found, those little characters end up going on to be the stars of their own stories, and the cycle continues.
Seventy-one days remaining.