Side Character Woes

close up picture of chess pieces on a checkered board, the pawn in the foreground is gold, in the distance silver pieces are out of focus

I’ve been struggling with writing a difficult scene this week (started this entry June 12…). It involves five characters in a small room:

  • one near death (unconscious and unaware)
  • two leading the situation (antagonist and his minion)
  • two that are being pitted against one another by the instigators (both healers of little notoriety, one of which is a main character in the story)

They are there to heal the near dead person, but doing so will kill one of the healers. They are being forced to do this, and the decision of who dies is up to them.

Four of these characters are fully fleshed out. They either have their own arcs, or appear and interact with the main characters enough that they are fully formed. And then there’s my poor little scapegoat…

The character that will die before the scene closes is of little importance to the overall plot. His interactions with other characters are brief, his origin isn’t positive; he’s a subordinate and treated very poorly. To his dismay, his death is an open topic of discussion among the others in the room.

His dying has a greater impact on the narrative than his being alive did. His death is the starting point to a main character’s downward spiral.

I need this scene. I need him to die. But why should I care that he dies? He’s a B-character. A background actor. An ant on the sidewalk. If I’m asking why it matters, that means my readers will wonder the same thing.

I hate characters that are purely used as plot devices to further the development of the main character, and I’ve been kicking myself for weeks because I don’t want to be guilty of what I hate to read about.

Working on this scene made me take a step back and re-evaluate a number of my side characters. I’ve kept ones that contribute to the overall narrative (not solely character narratives), and cut down scenes and dialogue for ones that only support character arcs.

With a goal of having his death more impactful, I’ve added more depth to this character. Increasing opportunities for him to interact with the main character storyline he features in, and giving him space to share details about himself.

I could easily keep adjusting how lesser characters are featured for six more months. I’m over thinking. I know I am. Plotting always makes me compare small details to the full piece and argue their relevance.

It’s been two months since I started assessing my plot, one month since I worked on this scene, and two weeks since I began writing my second draft.

The pieces are on the board.

Photo by Tanvir Araf

Discover more from Tiny Hearse

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading