Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Characters Who Push

IMG_9868I’m probably not the easiest friend to have.

That’s because I really don’t enjoy going out.

Honestly, if it weren’t for my children and their plethora of activities (and multitudinous errands), I’d probably rarely leave the house.

The funny thing is that the types of friends that I tend to attract are extroverts. This is probably because my fellow introverts are too busy being mellow inside their own houses. And maybe extroverts see me as a challenge. :)

I have one particular extroverted friend—we’ll call her Karen. She absolutely adores people and events and feeds off them. She has many, many, many friends and she treats them all wonderfully—she finds these fun, frequently inexpensive events to attend, calls her friends, they have a happy time, many pictures are taken and shared on Facebook.

Of course, though, when Karen calls me up and asks me to go somewhere (at least twice a week), my automatic reaction is, “No.” Right out of the gate.

Usually, Karen can get me to recant the no. “Elizabeth! Have you got something else to do then? Because it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s free, the band is supposed to be great, the weather is going to be perfect, our girls can play at the playground there at the park. Why don’t we go? You can always leave early if you’re not having fun. You’ll probably find some characters there.”

And I do usually go. I’ll frequently be a little grouchy at the start, but trying to hide it (with varying degrees of success.) Then…the event is almost always fun, something interesting always happens, my children will have fun. There will be more people I know there. I’ll end up talking to them, too. Frequently, characters and ideas and just raw life will pop out at me at these things and demand to be written.

Then I go home and am completely exhausted and withdraw for the entire next day. And Karen will have already gotten a commitment from me to attend some other event. :)

The thing about Karen is the kind of reactions that she can bring out of me. There’s that desperate way I seize onto that ‘no’ at the very beginning (knowing the likely futility of it). And when she pushes me out of my comfort zone, there’s my usual irritation. But then, when I’m at these events that I never would have attended on my own, I end up with an odd feeling of accomplishment by the end of it. And I’ve frequently surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it. Then I crash. :)

I’ve recognized lately, that I always have a character like Karen in my books. They’re secondary characters to my protagonist and always make something interesting happen. They function almost as antagonists (but aren’t…the antagonists in my books are murderers.) These characters can create some pretty amazing elements in a book:

Maybe the secondary character provides tension in a scene as they push our protagonists in directions they don’t want to go in.

Maybe this supporting character provides some humor (we know the protagonist is avoiding him and what he represents. It’s fun to see them encounter the character.)

This character is frequently someone that the protagonist can’t quite figure out. And can’t really avoid or resist.

Maybe the push that this supporting character gives is actually more of a pull. That’s because many protagonists are extroverts and the conflict would be more effective if it was a holding back instead of a push ahead.

Maybe the character is someone who embarrasses the protagonist in public by saying whatever comes into her head, but ultimately presents the protagonist with a truth.

Ultimately, these types of characters can also bring out the best in a protagonist or actually change the protagonist in some way by pushing the character in a new direction. And this is great for a story because it means a deeper, more realistic protagonist.

Have you got any pushy secondary characters or read any you’ve enjoyed? What kind of effect did they have in the story?