Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing Fever : I like useless characters

Yes, yes, yes, I like useless characters

Every one of you who ever tried to write a novel, or a story, or something, anything really, involving characters, probably, mostly likely, definitely came across this advice : 

"Develop your characters, every character need to have a role and purpose, use your characters and don't forget them in the middle of the story." 
Not really formulated like this but you get the idea. 

 The thing is....hmmm... NO... so let me explain.

First thing first, what are the ideas behind this advice ?

1) Writing should be straight to the point.
2) There is a lot to write so only write useful things.
3) Why would you write about a character nobody will remember?
4) Why would you spend monstrous time developing a character who will appear only for half a page?
5) People are going to get bored with reading you if you get into digression all the freaking time.

A lot of people seem to think that if something doesn't literally bring anything to the story's plot it is not worth mentioning. But my point is, useless characters are everywhere and they are the background workers, the reason why part of the plot can actually hold. (I like to leave clues about my next novels, which might or might not be written) in the current one. (Anyone cares to look for them ?)

So here is why I think you should use and overuse useless characters. (Other than it help your NaNoWriMo word count)
Next time you walk in the street  count the number of people you see and figure out the number of useful one for you to get from point A to point B. See what I'm saying, you meeting a friend and just saying hello on the way home is not going to bring anything to your destination. Maybe you'll even forget that you met him when you arrive there. Does it mean that those people should die ? Certainly not. Every one of them have a background role and probably did something, at some point, that helped you, or help someone to do something that helped you, or helped someone to help someone to help someone.... to help someone who helped you.
See where I'm going there ? 
If you walk home at night, you're more likely to want the street to be filled up with people than to have one man standing in the dark corner of a door step, all dressed in black, watching you until you finally turn in the street corner.... damn that street never seemed so long. 

Same when you watch a movie, how many of the actors present on the screen actually got a line and how many of them are just called "the woman in black" in the credits. 

Thinking about it, I don't see why novels shouldn't be populated. Accientally making one useless characters jump in can bring a little fun when you get bored with writing or don't have any idea. 
And think about it, no matter how bad it is everything can be corrected if you don't like it.

Maybe I tend to over populate my novels, I don't know. I have a lot of characters ready to use and I like to have them walking around even when they don't bring anything to the story. I like to have them interact and annoy the main characters with their little "useless" life. 

And that friend you run into when depress walking home after a long day work, might be the one brightening your life with a silly joke. 

How many of you died reading the long long.... long fish and plant list in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" ? But nobody will dare to say that it's a bad book. (or maybe someone will.) It's not useful but the fishes are there to be known and seen.
How many of you died reading never ending description ? It's not really useful either but it gives you a nice feeling of the surrounding even if your characters never make it there.
I believe that adding moving characters, even for a short time, can brighten your story.


(At worse, they will give people something to talk about.)

Cyrano de Bergerac : Que dites-vous ?… C'est inutile ?… Je le sais !
                                      Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès !
                                     Non ! non, c'est bien plus beau lorsque c'est inutile !

 ( Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, éd. Pocket, 2005, acte V, scène 6, p. 200 )

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