Monday, July 02, 2012

Developing Minor Characters in a Book


Since we fled DC after the storm on Friday night, here I am asking questions again. I am beginning to think taking vacations is a dangerous thing for us to do. Dangerous for the places we visit as much as for us.

Anyway, I just finished GONE GIRL, which was in most ways a terrific novel. Exciting, well-written, original, great finish. Who could ask for anything more. Me

One thing bothered me and it has come up before in many novels. How well-developed should the second male or female lead be in a novel. Does it work for you if they are only there to fill out the cast or to listen to the troubles of the star? Shouldn't they have some sort of life of their own?

In GONE GIRL, the male protagonist has a sister named Go. Great name, but she was given very few other characteristics although we were supposed to believe these two were very close. They run a business together, for instance. But she never came to life because she had no story of her own.

In a short story, you don't have the space to do this. But in a novel, there is lots of time to bring characters to life. What do you think? Maybe it is asking too much in a novel that is mostly about plot? But I wanted to know Go! Especially after she gave her that name.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. In a case like the one you describe I'd want at least some details about and insight into her life.

Boy, you and Phil sure do have your share of vacation disasters. Watch out. New Orleans!

Jeff M.

Dave Zeltserman said...

This is just one of the many reasons I love Westlake/Stark novels--all the characters, no matter how minor, are brought fully to life. Westlake is one of the best I've read at doing this.

George said...

I agree with Dave. Westlake was a master of developing minor characters. So was Ed McBain. And Jeff is right about you and vacations. I think I prefer my cozy room at REHAB.

Deb said...

Well, here in the New Orleans metro area we're having our usual temps of high 90s/low 100s, but--unlike usual summer weather--we're not having the afternoon deluges of rain, almost drought-like conditions for us. And we're heading into hurricane season and the temps in the Gulf of Mexico are so warm you could take a bath in there (not that you'd want to), which means lots of incubation for a hurricane to develop. Joy!

As for characters, I like them developed to the level they need to be in the plot. I hate novels where the "best friend" seems to have no other life than being there for the hero/heroine--please give them something else to do, a hobby, a relationship, something that makes their interaction with the protagonist not seem like it's the only thing in their lives (which is either creepy or evidence of a lazy writer).

IMHO, someone who handled minor characters really well was Margaret Mitchell in GONE WITH THE WIND. There are a huge number of characters in the book and each of them has just enough fleshing out for us to know who they are and how they relate to Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, & Ashley without taking the spotlight off the main characters.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess the whole country is drought-like other than the northwest.
Wish I remembered the writing of GWTW better. The movie dominates my thinking.

Al Tucher said...

I'm seeing a lot of supporting characters of the kind you're describing, Patti. I'm afraid it has to do with the decline of editing in general. I've just read several books in a row, all in long-running series that I have liked, that don't seem to have passed under a second set of eyes before publication. Someone needed to tell the author, "This character is two-dimensional."

Among other things.

Jerry House said...

The official name for Friday's storm is a "derencho," which evidently is Spanish for "one helluva storm." There's no truth to the rumor that it was caused by you and Phil being in the area.

I agree with you on secondary characters, but most of the authors I read do a pretty good job with them. I find if an author does a poor job on those, he usually does a poor job on the protagonist by making him to be an unintended charicature.

Richard R. said...

Beautiful here in Portland, OR.

The novel I just finished had so many secondary and tertiary characters sometimes it was hard to tell who was the star (there were three of those, actually) and they were all pretty well developed. But then in a 563 page science fiction novel, with a lot of closed environments, there's plenty of time and (no pun) space.

Anonymous said...

We're at or above our normal rainfall totals thanks to several big storms, so no drought here.

Jeff M.

PS - there is a HUGE waiting list for the Flynn book at the library so I am going to try one of her earlier books first.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read the first one-Sharp Objects, which was good but not as good as this one. It is #2 on the best seller list, I think.

Chris said...

Attention to those characters can make a good book great. The best understand that, I think.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oftentimes secondary characters make a book for me. In the telling as well as in the reading.

Ron Scheer said...

Days late to add my two centavos here. Think I'll write a blog on the subject. It's another good one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good. A sticky issue.

Todd Mason said...

And I hope you don't invest too much of your opinion of Robert Bloch on your recent reading of his fine but hardly career-making (nor much of a challenge) "A Toy for Juliette"...but it is notable how Bloch is one of those who will consistently at least throw us a few details in even short story form for an important supporting character.

Kathe Koja said...

"Someone needed to tell the author, 'This character is two-dimensional.'"

If the character, no matter how minor, is not fully really human - even if the reader catches only a glimpse - why is s/he in the story at all?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, it doesn't look like my perceived deficit in the novel has hurt sales at all as it sits at the top of the charts. But I found it left a hole. Her two central characters are so strong, I think they literally seized control of the the entire proceedings.