Welcome to Secondary Characters part 2.
First, I promised to go over last week’s question. Let us begin there.
I gave three characters: Bob Cratchet (A Christmas Carol), Haymich Abernathy (The Hunger Games), and Igor (Frankenstein). Then I asked you to place each in a category of secondary character—light, moderate, deep.
Here’s how I saw them.
Haymich Abernathy: deep
Deep characters are a) possessing of fleshed-out, shown backstories, and b) are important (maybe integral) to the main plot of the story
I see Haymich as a deep character because his backstory is indeed shown. In CATCHING FIRE, we see Haymich from twenty-five years ago—a game victor. We also see that he, like his two protégés, is not one to bend to rules. In MOCKINGJAY, we learn that his family and girlfriend were killed for the stunt he pulled during the second quarter quell and that he took up drinking to deal with the world.
As time goes on, Haymich also becomes more and more important to the story. In THE HUNGER GAMES, he is the mentor figure and not too prominent a role. In CATCHING FIRE he becomes a teacher, friend, and confidant for Katniss. By MOCKINGJAY he has taken control of a segment of the story—this seen at the end of book 2 when he reveals the plan to destroy the arena and rescue Katniss.
Didn’t have Haymich as deep? He grows into the part. And this is an important point to make. Secondary characters in a series may change their role from book to book. In THE HUNGER GAMES I’d argue Haymich is moderate. By the end, though, he’s flying the deep flag high and proud.
Bob Cratchet: moderate
Moderate characters are a) possessed of moderately fleshed out backstories, and b) somehow important to the plot.
If someone asked, you would probably be hard pressed to come up with a character more important to Scrooge than his faithful clerk. From the office to Christmas yet to come, Cratchet is affecting our beloved/not-so-beloved main character. But I wouldn’t go so far to classify Bob as deep.
Let’s break this down. Bob is important to the plot but no more important than the shadows of Christmas past, the other shadows of present, or the shadows of future. All three work equally to let Scrooge make his miraculous change.
But Bob’s backstory, you say. Is present backstory? I’d argue no. Even when Bob’s story is in the spotlight, it is only the here and now.
That here and now is extremely important, though, which leads me to my reasoning for placing Bob in the moderate category. I do not believe there are any deep secondary characters in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge doesn’t let anyone get close enough to be deep. Bob is certainly the closest. I wrestled with him for a while, but I’d file him moderate.
Igor – light
Light characters are a) possessed of an important “here and now,” and b) more often important to subplots.
This is going to be a very short analysis. Igor. He’s neat, but he’s light. Lol
Had different answers? It’s okay. Like everything else in writing, this is a set of guidelines. I’m not the final authority on secondary characters. People see character’s differently. I believe Bob Cratchet is moderate for the reasons above. Disagree? As long as you can back up your answer, that’s fine.
Mary, that’s great. How do we use this?
Man, you’re the best students ever—always asking the right questions at the right time.
It’s time for some practical application.
The Eye Patch Example
How much “screen time” does each level of secondary character get? How much does the protagonist/reader need to know about them?
To answer these questions, I propose the use of an eye patch. (No, not pirates…well, maybe pirates.) What does this do? Let’s take a character who has an observable quirk (the eye patch) through the three levels of secondary character-dom and see how that eye patch changes the character’s role at each stage.
-Light – The reader/protagonist knows one thing about the observable quirk. The eye patch has one defining quality, as it were. Perhaps it itches.
-Moderate – Now the reader/protagonist knows what happened. We know why the secondary character has this observable quirk. He has an eye patch that itches. Perhaps it itches because secondary character lost his eye.
-Deep – Now protagonist/reader knows the secondary character lost his eye. Either the character has relayed that information or the protagonist (and by extension, the reader) was there. Heck, the protagonist may have been responsible for secondary character losing his eye. The protagonist may be the only one who has seen secondary character without the eye patch. Even more, to get back to what deep characters are, this eye patch may play a crucial role in the story. Perhaps there is some funky, futuristic eye scanner that protagonist and secondary character can bypass if secondary character uses the eye patch. Getting past this scanner allows them to save the dragon in distress from the fire-breathing damsel. (Like how I combined sf and fantasy there? Me, too.)
Now, try it yourself. Pick a trait from the list below (or make up your own) and “eye patch out a character.” Feel free to leave your response in the comments. I’ll provide feedback.
-can shoot lightning bolts from eyes
-has devil horns
Join me next week for the final installment.
Thanks for reading.
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My book blog