Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Subplots: The GMCs of the Secondary Characters
Secondary characters exist to push or pull the protagonist through the transformations imposed by internal conflicts and external conflicts. They typically represent either a personification of one of the protag's weaknesses (think Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio), or they represent a divergence of character--the person the protag could have become if not for a critical decision/circumstance.
In order for secondary characters to be fully formed and fleshed out (pardon the pun) they need to have reasons for why they do what they do. They need to have lives that exist independently of the protagonist. They also need to have a purpose for interacting with the protagonist. They must want something from the protag. Sometimes their needs are in in direct conflict with the protag's goals. Sometimes it is their methods that are in conflict. Sometimes they are perfectly aligned but for different motivations. What is unshakable is that the protag will heavily influence their lives, their GMC, and the course of their conflict resolution during the story.
So, how do I keep the lives of my secondary characters from overwhelming the main plot? Part of it is by telling the story from the POV of the protagonist, so she only knows what she is told or witnesses. She only makes note of is useful or relevant to her...even if the relevance isn't revealed until later.
How do I keep from falling into the Piers Anthony trap that James mentioned yesterday? Always keeping in the fore of my editing-mind, that the secondary characters are a reflection of the protagonist. The protagonist must keep growing; therefore, the secondary characters must also change. They serve as a sort check and balance from book to book in a series.
The nice thing about anchoring subplots to secondary characters who are reflections of the protagonist, is that you control the great CAST OF THOUSANDS problem and the TOO DAMN COMPLICATED weaving of plot and subplots.