15 March 2012

Seat Fillers: Why Some Characters Should Be Throwaways

If you had to write your life story, who would you include? Probably your family, your love interests, and your close friends—whoever was especially important to you. What if this story was only focusing on a few months out of your life? Who would you include then? Everyone you came in contact with? Are you allowed to cut someone out if they aren’t important to the story, even if you interacted with them every day?

This is just another one of the dilemmas I’m facing while writing my novel, one that I’m more or less putting off until the second draft. It was a lot easier when my project was just a short story. The minor characters just weren’t necessary; in fact, they were dismissed in less than a paragraph. I just had Jordan say that he had plenty of acquaintances but no real friends because he just didn’t like people. No problem, right?

Well, it’s a problem now. I really just can’t believe that someone who is supposed to be charismatic and manipulative wouldn’t have friends, even if he didn’t actually like them. And when he goes to school and sits down at lunch, is he supposed to be some loner all by himself? It just didn’t fit the character. So that lunch table needed some seat fillers.

I created four friends—Brian, Eric, Max, and Andy. They were created in a rather interesting way, actually. I wrote all five characters into a play. This was a lot of fun and I actually workshopped it in college, but that’s a story for another day.

As I try to develop these characters more and more, I’m wondering if it’s worth it. On one hand, they’re necessary to make the story more lifelike and believable. On the other hand, they might be dragging the story down but just being boring and not adding anything to the plot. The good news is that I came up with a subplot involving two of the friends. Basically Brian—the obnoxious, hotheaded friend—becomes the enemy, someone to be eliminated, while Eric—the shy, insecure one—becomes more of an asset to be manipulated and brought over to the dark side.

Ok, so Brian and Eric are now necessary. But what do I do with Max and Andy? Even in the play they were sort of lackluster. They really were just seat fillers, literally. There was nothing that distinguished them from one another. But if I get rid of them, then I’m just left with three boys at that lunch table. I still don’t buy it. I don’t remember ever seeing a group of just three boys in high school. It’s like they travel in packs. But these boring characters are more than likely going to make the story boring, and I certainly can’t fit in another subplot just to make them necessary.

I’ve narrowed down my options to three:

Option One: Combine Them 

Max and Andy have always seemed interchangeable. So why not just have one character with no personality who’s just sort of there? Four boys would be better than three, at least. The major problem I see with this is that my Max/Andy hybrid would kind of seem like a loose thread. Jordan is my narrator, and Brian and Eric are important to the subplot. So why is this other guy there? By having just one character, the fact that he is unnecessary becomes even more obvious. 

Option Two: Get Rid of Both

This would probably be the best option for the sake of the plot. They really serve no purpose. Their dialogue is predictable, generic, if I let them speak at all (which I haven’t yet, in four and a half chapters). The obvious problem with this option is the lack of realism. I can believe that a teenage boy would only have two close friends, but not that he has absolutely no other friends or even acquaintances to sit with at lunch. My character loses his credibility. 

Option Three: Turn Them into Props 

With this option, they’re just there. They probably never speak. Maybe there are even more boys than Max and Andy. They might not even have names. There might be some vague reference to “the other guys” after an actual conversation with Brian and Eric. Their identities aren’t important because I’m still maintaining the fact that Jordan doesn’t like people. He really doesn’t care. 

I’m leaning more toward option three. You get the realism of an actual group of teenage boys without boring characters having their boring opinions take up page space. At this point, though, I’m still not 100% sure.

Which option seems the best? Or is there a fourth one? Which one would you pick?

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of the guys on Star Trek who wear red.

    Nobody knows who they are but damn it Jim, you need people to fill the away party! Why limit it to 2, it could be boundless, I mean, do you only have 4 people in your life? Just reference a name and move on until they mysteriously die when they're at a party. Damn, poor Albert, can you believe what happened to him?

    Just my two worthless centavos lady!

    Option 3!

    --Tommy Sunshine!