Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Minor vs. Major Characters

Have you ever noticed how many minor characters in stories are infinitely more interesting than the majors?

I started thinking about this after my husband and I watched the movie Failure To Launch. The problems with this movie were many, but there was one character who was memorable.

The story's romantic female lead (Sarah Jessica Parker) has an odd, insomniac roommate (played marvelously by Zoey Deschanel). The roommate is plagued by a mockingbird constantly singing outside her window. She is also the object of affection for many men, but dusts them off like lint - until she meets someone who mentions that he owns a BB gun. The pair falls in love while trying to BB gun said mockingbird out of the tree. She is consistently dead-pan and emotionless and taken to arm-slapping others whilst her paramour is a hapless, rose wielding romantic. In other words, an interesting match.

The rest of the movie is sunk by the cliched boy-meets-and-loses-girl formula we've seen a thousand times. But wouldn't it have been interesting if the writer had explored the side story to a greater degree and more fully developed the odd pairing who bond over dark mischief? I realize the answer to this question lies with the guaranteed formula that will produce the most money. However, novelists are not constrained by this formula.

Ultimately, watching bad movies or reading bad books can be instructive and inspiring by looking at those characters who truly stand out from the others by virtue of their strangeness.

This morning as I sat down to work on my current novel, I felt a tug toward one of my own secondary characters - an advice spewing teen kleptomaniac, who is blissfully aware that her parents ignore her. I realized she needs greater development. That I wanted to know more about her thoughts and motivations and why she was so comfortable being the wallpaper of her family.

So perhaps the lesson is this: go ahead and develop that story in your head and then reverse the major and minor characters and see what happens.

Perhaps you have some examples of minor film or book characters who were more interesting than the lead protagonist?

- Karen Harrington
Author of JANEOLOGY, Spring 2008 from Kunati Books

1 comment:

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, bestselling author said...

Great article, Karen. I felt much the same about Failure to Launch. And I loved Zoey Deschanel's role. She really made the movie for me.