Thursday, September 4, 2008

Character Narrative

During the past week we've been hearing about the "narratives" of political figures. This led me to think about the "narratives" of the characters about whom we write. Of course, the main character's narrative is easy. That's what our story is about. But I think we often neglect the narratives of other characters in the story. They appear, interact with the main character and disappear from the scene or chapter. Often we are told that there are too many of these secondary or minor characters. The reader has trouble remembering them. I think perhaps the problem is that we neglect the "narratives" of these secondary characters. As good writers, we must give them a "bio" as well, so that they are memorable, even if their presence serves only to move the story along.


  1. I agree that we must know the stories of all our characters, not just the protagonist. That said, however, I do think that when writing for children "less is more". You don't need a crowd of characters when 2 or 3 will do.

  2. Do we always have to know the life story of secondary characters? Sometimes secondary characters are memorable because of particular quirks - a manner of speech or dress, physical traits, a way of looking at the world, a repeated gesture. These are the things we remember.

    If the writer chooses carefully, these quirks can reflect a character's story.

  3. I think I need to know enough about secondary characters so that their response is "in character". Basically their response to every situation needs to make sense for who they are. (It can be fascinating to study the facial and body reactions of actors in dramas and comedies when they respond, often subtly, to something another actor has done. They always have to respond in the way their character would. Even if their character isn't in the forefront of the action.)

  4. Back in my acting days, I always created a complete bio for any character I played--no matter how small the role.

    So this leads me to another thought. I also always knew exactly what happened to the character immediately preceding an entrance. But I've never given a thought to what happened to my characters immediately before each scene.

    So, a chapter ends and the next one begins three days later with your MC at his locker, filling up his backpack and racing to meet the bus. Do you know what his last class was, and what happened in it? I've never given it a thought, unless it's part of the story. Maybe I should.