Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Protagonist's Posse Test

'3 Musketeers' on BBC
The protagonist's posse, the Scooby Gang, d'Artagnan's Musketeers. Who, what, where, why, how? Too many? Too few? Too bland? Too ... too?

I'll share something that won't be a surprise to any long-term bordello client: My first drafts always have an excess of "close friends" for the protagonist. (I tend to have an excess of a lot of things, words included).

Nobody Needs That Many Friends

How do I know when the protag is too damn popular? I am what Jeffe called "an analytical writer."  Yes, I do actual ... math. Some rudimentary psychology is involved as well. Then the evil puppeteer takes over. You know that saying, "Kill Your Darlings"? There is epic slaughter during the first edit, 'cause less than half of the original posse remains by the time I'm done.

How do I decide who goes and who stays?  I apply a three-step test.

Sidekick Necessity Test:

1. Time on Page -- Figure out the ratios for scenes in which the sidekick appears : total scenes in the book. If the ratio is 5 : 60; they're not a sidekick, they're a plot device being poorly applied. Don't, do not, just randomly add the character to scenes in an effort to make him/her relevant. Giving a character more time in front of the reader by having him/her be one of a dozen on scene leads to a bad case of Who's On First. That's not a solution, that's a disaster.
How to Fix: Consider consolidating two or three characters into one. Not only will the reader have more time to bond with the "consolidated" character, the character will be multidimensional.

2. Contrasting Robust Personality -- The sidekick should never be "protag lite" nor a one-dimensional representation of temptation or weakness (thar be the path to stereotypes). The purpose of the secondary character is to to be the catalyst of emotional discoveries and to push the protagonist into situations he/she would not otherwise go. The sidekick achieves these via his/her differences from the protag.
How to Fix: Know the Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts of the secondary characters then use their GMCs to create conflict with the protagonist.

3. Pivotal in a subplot -- This links back to last week's topic and it is important. It is the verifying point of tests 1 and 2 above. The role the secondary character plays in a subplot should be significant. This test will weed out the "just the comedic relief" character and the "spunk vessel" character from the posse. It will prevent flat characters and create emotional connections.
How to Fix: If the secondary character isn't instrumental in a subplot, then delete the character.

There you have it, dear readers, a means to test whether your protagonist's friends are friends or fillers.  Is there a test you use for character relevance? Please share!


  1. ~pets analytical writer~

    ~goes back to intuitive roller coaster~

  2. When they make the movie they'll just combine all the sidekicks anyway LOL. Good post KAK!

    1. Ha! Thus begins the drinking games for folks who read the books...

  3. Nice mathematical skills KAK. Poignant because I think I need to cut out some characters. Where is my sword...

    1. Would you prefer one with a pistol grip or an Italian grip? ~lash flutter~