II. Casting The ExtrasA Lesson by TopHatGirl
They may not matter in the long run, but...
Here I was, surfing the net (do kids these days still say "surfing the net"?), and reading, when I realized that I left a lot out of my character lesson.
So, welcome to Part II, where you'll get more info on other aspects of characters in your book. Think of Part II like mashed potatoes to the side of your chicken dinner. Yum.
Now, lesson 1 in part II. Extras. They're the characters that go with the main ones, and flesh out your story deeper. Now, I don't expect you to develop them like you did for your characters in lesson 1 and 2 in part I. These may be sides, but they disappear from time to time, and generally become invisible as the plot thickens.
Extra Characters DO NOT include: Protagonist, Antagonist, and characters that are strong aspects of the stories. To better explain this, let's take a popular book. Harry Potter. Obviously, Harry Potter is a main character. Development is key. Voldemort is the antagonist, important as well. Characters that are strong aspects are Ron, Hermione, and Draco. They're in most of the scenes and plot points, and have side arcs of their own, with direct relationships to the main character. Developing them is just as important as the antag/protag, but details are not needed as much.
Extra Characters are here to fill up empty spaces, but not start plots/storylines. This works for screenplays, books, even picture books. Extras may offer ideas, and may contrast the main character for balance. Extras may not need detailed backstories, but personalities, however brief they are, are important. If you don't want them to say much, use actions. See the ACTION lesson for more ideas on that.
Here are some types of extras:
1. The Comic Relief
The Comic Relief, or TCR, is a good character to have to give some break from the main character's angst ridden pain. There's a lot of examples of these types of characters, and usually a great idea to put one in if your book or screenplay is getting a little...too depressing. Now, TCR is not a good idea for a book that is all depression. But if you're in a horror film, and everyone's crying and sad, it's nice to have someone with a positive, joke-like, attitude on the whole thing. It provides a small laugh from your reader, and it prevents them from hating the negative main character, if there is one. Humiliation is a good place to start, and puns often provoke groans and smiles.
Example: Everyone poised their weapons at the windows, waiting for the zombies to come. I wiped a dirty hair strand out of my eyes, and breathed. This was going to be the most important moment of my dear life.
"Hey, does anyone think that we might be on a reality television show, and we're being bullshitted?" Harold asked. I rolled my eyes, but remained quiet.
2. The All-Knowing One
The All Knowing One, or, the AKO, is usually a character that tells the main what his/her quest or mission is. Sometimes it's a parent figure, telling them what's right, or a wise sage. They usually appear at the beginning and end. The AKO can appear in dreams or thoughts throughout the book, but have this be brief but important. A background story is not needed, and tends to get boring if too lengthy. What is needed, though, is a prominent quirk or appearance. A long beard? Sure, go for it. Missing, rotting, decaying teeth? Awesome. Rakes their fingers across the main's cheek while they speak, whispering in low tones? Sounds like my grandmother, but it's good for a character. While this AKO should be memorable, their appearance should not be more then 10 pages.
Coworkers, or colleagues, depending, should be simple. While it's fun to have them be weird (picking noses is often humorous and fuels disgust), they should not be developed more then just on the surface. Think about your office/class. You may be good friends with someone, and barely know others. Your character is the same way. They have friends (who are usually more important then extras), and the acquaintances. You know the odd habits of these acquaintances, but you barely know them outside of school/work. Remember this when having these extras. They are usually there to describe the location, or surroundings, and won't usually be referred to later. If you want, flip through a book. You'll see a lot of random names that you don't remember reading about, and that's good. They set the stage, and add details, nothing more.
Example of Coworkers: Mary looked up from her dreary claustrophobic cubicle. Ian was hogging the coffee machine, slurping the joe it like it was a godsend. Mary smiled deviously; she had put decaf in this morning. Nancy was hungover again, you could tell by the way she held her head whenever Mary sharpened her pencil. Because of this, Mary tried to sharpen her pencil as often as possible.
They often help give clues to the main character's personality as well. You could tell Mary is a little mischievous, due to her interactions with the coworkers.
Whip out an extra when it seems like it would be a good time. But not when everyone's in an intense situation, or during the climax. They seem random and out of place, and disrupt the flow. When you use extras correctly, they make you seem like a better writer.
Be smart about your extras, but all in all, they're mostly fun to play around with. Try out different ones, and use them when you feel it's right. Happy writing!
Added on March 22, 2011
Last Updated on March 22, 2011
AboutHi, I'm TopHatGirl! If you're here about my character lessons or to get some advice, email me instead of messaging at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is because I don't go on this site as much anym..