Monday, November 14, 2011

When Secondary Characters Steal the Spotlight


    This past weekend, I attended the always-fantastic Prairie Writer's Day in Palatine, Illinois, hosted by our state chapter of SCBWI. One of the highlights of the day was a Skype visit by author Bruce Hale. He had his 200+ - person audience in stitches as he talked about the secrets of humor. But the one point I took away from his talk had more to do with secondary characters than with humor.
     Hale compared the main character in one's story to the sun. That character should be three-dimensional, which we've all heard before and hopefully, dutifully, and painstakingly accomplish with rewriting. However, he said that not all characters should not be as fully-fleshed out as the MC or they can outshine the star of your story.  Makes sense.
    When I heard this, it hit home because recent feedback on one of my manuscripts pointed to that very problem. An editor complimented two of my secondary characters, their role in the story, their personalities and quirks. Missing? The love for my MC.
     If your secondary characters are stealing the spotlight from your MC, ask yourself why. Is it because you're writing from your MC's eyes and you're forgetting those details that help define his/her personality? Or maybe your secondary characters want to tell the story instead. Whatever the reason, revision is in order.
     As I revise, I'll be paying particular attention to my MC and how he interacts with those noisy, boisterous secondary characters. He'll need to take center stage again, clamp a hand over their mouths, and remind them to be a little less show-offy. As the writer, I'm just the person to help him to that.
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