Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Second bananas

Who is that behind the hero?

Another comment thread brought the problem of secondary characters in a novel to light.  How to make these co-stars come to life and not be merely placeholders?  You don’t want to have a fully-formed hero running around a bunch of cardboard silhouettes.

My method is to write biographies for each secondary character.  Not to the extent of the primary characters, to be sure, but a solid bit of background history.  This material is not for print.  If a moment pops up in the flow that allows for some of this material to be passed on, fine, but my intention is strictly as a reference for me.

For example, my recent book required a female hacker-electronics authority.  Not an “expert”.  Not one of these ultra geeks that can pierce any firewall and password with a ten second flurry of keyboarding fingers, but she knows her spuds.

More or less randomly, I decided she hailed from Kentucky.  I may have just watched an episode of “Justified”.  She wasn’t a trailer trash hillbilly but leaned in that direction.  She liked monster trucks and muscle cars, but not as much as her siblings.  She decorated her laptop and gear with the same art as went on the muscle machines.  She’s got that “lone outcast” vibe, but not to the extreme “freak geek” level.  She hung out with the good ol’ boys on a tailgate party, though her mind kept drifting back to her computers.

I decided she rolled over on some other young blackhat hackers when their shenanigans crossed the line into real crime.  She was put into witness protection but hated it with a hot, bored hate.  She also has second thoughts on testifying in general.  She enters the story on the dodge from both the hackers and WITSEC marshals.  She’s got secrets and deflects questions however she can.

And so on and so forth.  There’s more on her personality and whatnot.  

As I say, none of this is intended to see print.  The reader won’t see any bio info dump.  It’s sole purpose is to give me a foundation upon which to stand when the Hero and she have to interact.  I now have a decent idea of how she’ll respond.  What sort of wisecracks.  In a drawl.  How guarded she is.  

I’m sure this is a classic method for any writer.  The somewhat tricky angle is not to be tempted to dump this all on the page.  It’s the “magic behind the curtain”.  Too many writers mop the creative sweat from their brow after a major load of research effort and think all that work HAS to be used in the story.  Thus is born tedious info bloat.

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