Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Main Character is an Island

We're watching Six Feet Under last night, almost to the end of season two. It's a damn good episode, full of  drama and emotion up the wazoo. Oh, be warned, there may be spoilers for those who are slower at watching this than us. Nate found out about Brenda's extracurricular activites, having read her WIP and then by chance meeting one of the two young men she fucked and wrote about, recognizable by his unusual cap, not to mention he acted as if he knew her. Well, he went ballistic and the engagement was called off. Also, Keith and David are going through their own problems, what with taking care of Keith's niece Taylor cause her mom's in jail for a hit and run, and social services are breathing up their ass. Ruth broke up with Nikolai (while I like Nikolai fine, I didn't think they were all that compatible, but sometimes you never know). And then there was Federico.  An elder woman who was like a grandmother to him, whom he and his wife were nice to and did favors for, passed, and it brought back memories of when he first came to Fisher & Sons on the death of his father, who fell off the roof, smack dab into some bricks, and the  young Federico saw him. But Nathaniel Fisher restored him to what he had looked like in life. I was so moved by the scenes involving Federico and Nathaniel, watched their burgeoning relationship - and then it hit me. Federico is a secondary character, he's not one of the Fishers, but even so, he is intimately woven into the fabric of the series and their lives. He may be a supporting player, but without him, what do you have? A show full of holes.

When you think of Gone With the Wind, you think of Scarlett and Rhett, but if you look at the amount of time these two are even together in the book or the movie, you realize it's not a lot. I love this book (not so much the movie) and what makes it memorable is not just Scarlett and her growth as a character - her trials, tribulations and joys - but the people in her life - her doting father Gerald O'Hara, the man she thinks she loves Ashley Wilkes, Ashley's patient and sweet wife Melanie, Scarlett's maid/friend/companion Mammy, and more. They bring the novel to life, and add color to what would otherwise be a single tone.

Too many writers add secondary characters like they were filler, only there to pad the plot or fill in the empty spaces. They don't develop them, they simply shove them on stage and expect them to perform without any sort of motive or history, and it shows. Without securing them in place, weaving these characters in tightly, you end up with holes in your fabric - holes which will come back to haunt you later. But if instead you figure out who they are from the beginning, give them color and breadth and depth, you don't have to worry so much. Sure, you can go back and make amends, and if you're good enough, the result will be flawless. But if you're not, it will appear to be patched, and that is sloppy writing indeed.

There are different ways of building your characters. Some people go into it blindly, and develop them as the story advances. Other write full bios ahead of time, include information which may never see the light of the page, but which goes into the foundation of that character and enriches it. There is no right and wrong way. Sometimes it depends on what you're working on. The same writer can approach the question different ways for different works. But you need to be aware of  your secondary characters and flesh them out, otherwise your main characters are stuck out there on that island, and frankly my dear, no one gives a damn.

How do you deal with your secondary characters? I'd love to hear!

On an unrelated note, I watched last night's Hawaii 5-0 this morning, and this was the first episode that I can honestly remember being not so impressed with. The guest for the episode was Sean Combs as a NY cop undercover in a crime organization who is compromised, his wife killed and his son (whom he hasn't seen in two years) endangered and now Steve and Danny have to find him as well as solve the crime. The plot wasn't bad, it just wasn't particularly good. I didn't find Combs' performance all that good either - he only has one emotion level and that's angry, and not a believable angry at that. The kid who played his son wasn't believable to me either, although I blame the writer for part of that too - this boy looked too old to be talking like he did, and calling his mother Mommy. He was supposed to be nine but his dialogue seemed geared for a five or six  year old. I guess that goes to show that you can't hit a home run every time. Since there were no previews for next week, I assume we play the waiting game again until we get to watch the next episode.

That's all for now,  have a great day!

♥ Julie

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