I am fascinated by background characters in stories. Often I use the treatment of these characters as a measure of how much I am going to enjoy the story itself.
There is a fine balance in writing stories and characters that sit to the side of the main action.
It is easy enough to make a story feel as though it is set in a diorama. It is easy enough to create the feeling that if you push hard enough on the surrounding scenery, the entire world will collapse into a pile of two-dimensional cardboard.
It is also easy to become distracted, to create side stories that become more engaging than the main story, that suck all the oxygen out of the plot and the conflict.
Like most spectra in writing, I prefer a balance between the two extremes.
But I also have a secret, guilty, contradict-myself pleasure.
I love seeing a secondary character get a moment to be fully, completely human.
While there is a real pleasure in being fully absorbed in the main character’s life and troubles, it can start to feel as if the world around them exists only to lead to their ultimate goal. Characters appear and disappear, acting as sounding boards or villains. After awhile, it becomes difficult to connect to anything outside of the main character.
This is why moments that connect me to the characters who aren’t telling their story can often be the most powerful points in a book.
In real life, it is easy to become entirely self-focused, allowing the world to spin around us without registering its other occupants.
Moments where we are forced to connect to others, to be reminded of a thousand other stories intersecting with ours, are vital.
When I am reading a story, I look, not just for a main character worth following, but for those in the background who will remind us that the sun shines on others as well.
I am the kind of person who is always looking at the backgrounds of pictures.
If you are interested in my treatment of the background, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor is available here.