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Denevius
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I've noticed in a lot of fiction that side characters tend to be more interesting than main characters. This is especially true of pieces I read on critiquing sites, and I often wonder why that is.

Sometimes I think it's because side character stories have already been written in the author's mind, and readers are being introduced to them fully formed. Whereas the main character is presented as a babe in the narrative, someone who has to discover their path in life. So they come off as weaker and more uninteresting, and though eventually they're supposed to be fully captivating, this will only happen in time and after a series of adventures/misadventures.

I also think that writers feel they can take more risks with side characters because it's not all that important that readers empathize with them. In books, a great example is the original Dragon Lance trilogy. The focus of these three books was always Tanis Half-Elven, but it was the conflict between the twins, Raistlin and Cameron, that was more compelling. Raistlin falling to evil, Cameron blindly following him out of love, is a better narrative than Tanis, who mostly is always just trying to do the right thing.

For movies, look at the original Star Wars. Seriously, who would really pick the bright eyed Luke Skywalker to the rogue Han Solo as the more compelling character? Or Hannibal Lecter from "Silence of the Lambs".

You hear about this television shows, where characters that were only supposed to be around for an episode prove so popular that they get brought back over and over again.

I know I've often given this suggestion to writers in critiques, and I've gotten it too on my writing. This is part of the reason why I've had to add additional chapters to the novel. And I admit, writing secondary characters is often more fun. It's cooler being the Fonz than Richie Cunningham.

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Reziac
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That's an interesting observation.

In The Skinner by Neal Asher, I've always thought that first lot we're introduced to (whose names I've tellingly forgotten) were supposed to be the main characters... but Sable Keach proved more interesting and in due course took over the book.

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extrinsic
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Damon Knight discusses this shortcoming of underdeveloped viewpoint characters in Creating Short Fiction. He notes that focal viewpoint characters are often underdeveloped, especially first person narrators, when they are too much writer surrogate characters. Writers know themselves too well or too little, or their focal characters' viewpoints reflecting their own, to develop them dimensionally and dynamically.

They are static observers, static in terms of dramatic complication development, static in terms of developing the illusion of reality immersion spell, static in terms of their interaction with their physical, external reality. They are often not touched or touching their surroundings. They are less often not fully oriented to person, time, place, situation, and emotion than other characters; in Glascow Coma scale terms, they aren't five by five situationally aware. They may and regularly do have wants and problems wanting satisfaction; however, they strive one- or two-dimensionally for complication satisfaction.

Despite Thomas Harris's development of suberb drama in Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling's appeals depend in large part on her focal complication wanting satisfaction, but more so on her interactions with Hannibal Lecter. She doesn't touch persons much except Buffalo Bill's victims. She isn't touched per se much at all. Her single-minded pursuit of Buffalo Bill overtakes her character development. Though at times her personal life is developed, it is superficial.

Starling is a more fully developed character in Hannibal, her personal life is more revealed and has deeper meaning. She is more situationally aware. She is touched and touches. Almost but not quite three-dimensional. In all, the focus of Starling's viewpoint, though, is on Lecter and not larger situationally aware of her private personality, traits, and behaviors. A writing mentor of mine would say, Too close a focus on Starling's complication without delving into her private routines for contrast, nor who she is outside of the investigation.

One scene in the Lambs book that is short-shrifted in the film does what I mean. Starling is called on by Jack Crawford to assume charge of a room full of good old boy local law enforcement at a country coroner's office. Buffalo Bill's latest victim is on the examination table. Starling uses her country momma persona and voice, that of her women ancestors she's never called on before. The men clear out without argument and without embarrassment. Exquisite scene. The scene develops Starling's character more fully than most of her other personal, though superficial traits.

Larger world situations, routine personal time, emotional attitudes toward everyday settings or exotic settings, and motifs that portray fully rounded and dynamic characters add dimension to character development. These items develop from features that authenticate a narrative, its illusion of reality development. A treatment is to incorporate as many interactional sensations as practical and timely and judiciously dramatic: visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and emotional. By dramatic here I mean antagonal, causal, and tensional.

For example, hiding behind a wall. Does the character scrape the wall? What does the wall look and feel like? Tall, soft, gritty, noisy, hot, dry, flimsy, intimidating? How a viewpoint character perceives such a wall develops character depth. The same goes for events, other characters, and other setting features.

Most narrative sensations focus on visual and aural stimuli. Tactile stimuli, touching and being touched, and "touching with the eyes," maybe with the ears, tactile-visual or -aural sensations, are underutilized by and large. Yet tactile stimuli are profound features for developing the all essential illusion of reality and character development. Olfactory stimuli have great powers for similarly developing the illusion of reality and character development. Gustatory stimuli when timely and judiciously deployed do equally magic work. Yet emotional feeling of viewpoint characters is most crucial for developing the illusion of reality and character development and unfortunately most underutilized.

Too narrow a focus on complication development and satisfaction too often leaves out features that authenticate a narrative's illusion of reality, develop character, and, not too coincidentally, opens aesthetic distance though narrative and psychic distances may be close.

[ December 22, 2013, 04:04 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Damon Knight discusses this shortcoming of underdeveloped viewpoint characters in Creating Short Fiction. He notes that focal viewpoint characters are often underdeveloped, especially first person narrators, when they are too much writer surrogate characters. Writers know themselves too well or too little, or their focal characters' viewpoints reflecting their own, to develop them dimensionally and dynamically.

They are static observers, static in terms of dramatic complication development, static in terms of developing the illusion of reality immersion spell, static in terms of their interaction with their physical, external reality.

I agree with this, but it doesn't quite respond to what I'm getting at.

Why is it that some narratives will short shrift the more interesting character in favor of the least interesting character, no matter how that least interesting character came about in the creative process? Why wasn't the first Star Wars not Han Solo's story with Luke Skywalker as the minor character? Why wasn't the original Dragonlance trilogy not Raistlin and Cameron's story, which did so much better to depict a true battle between good and evil, instead of the somewhat more flaccid Tanis Half-Elven's story?

Granted, I haven't gone back to new books in the Dragonlance world since I was a teenager, but what I do remember is how many subsequent books in the series were focused purely on Raistlin, Cameron, and their half sister, Kat. Whereas to my mind, I can't think of any of the two dozen or so books from the series I read that focused on Tanis. It's like once the writers finished the trilogy, they sat back and thought, "Wait a second, this guy is the least interesting person featured."

Even Tasslehoff Burrfoot got more attention in later novels than the original central protagonist of the first one.

Now, when you think of it, yes, lots of central characters in novels, no matter what role they're playing, tend to often be more sensitive, less impulsive individuals. And this is most likely the writer writing themselves as they see themselves.

Whereas the minor characters are writers writing themselves as they'd like to be, which may be why these characters tend to have so much more flair and personality. But if that's the case, why not just change the POV of the novel?

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babooher
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Maybe Tanis's story was told.

Why was Boba Fett so popular when he barely had any screen time?

Let's delve into some gender stereotypes (because they're stereotypical for a reason).

Why is Val Kilmer's Doc Holiday much cooler than Kurt Russel's Wyatt Earp? Wyatt Earp's story is compelling, interesting, developed, but Doc is the bad boy. Doc is Wyatt's foil Chicks dig bad boys, guys want girls to want them, so guys (kind of) want to be these guys. I qualify that last statement because as appealing as the bad boy character is, that role in real life rarely would work out. The man who tells his boss exactly what he thinks has many bosses.

Notice none of the secondary characters you mentioned are good, kindhearted souls? Even Burrfoot is a thief (loveable, yes, annoying even more so). No one I've ever talked to has ever been interested in Cameron, but Raistlin? He was one dark, mean, nasty. Doc Holiday is Ringo's huckleberry. Han shot first. Speaking of Han, his appeal (at least to me) dropped off considerably once he stopped being the rogue and started being respectable.

As for Fonz and Richie, again, I'd go back to the concept of the foil. Foils can be terrifically fun, but they often don't work when given their own spotlight. The Fonz works best juxtaposed with Richie. Han works best juxtaposed with Luke. Holiday with Earp. Take what makes these foils work and exclude their counterparts and you'll end up with an id driven piece. All candy and no veggies can be great for awhile but not for long.

As for this advice about more interesting side characters you've given and received, I'd offer this take on it. The characters the readers liked and wanted to know more about are pretty settled then. They are good to go, but the protagonist is not. My job is not to write some other story or change the POV, but to make the original POV better.

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extrinsic
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In a different approach from my earlier response, but similar, Han Solo and the Fonz are what Jerome Stern labels specimen characters, Their interest appeals are developed through a focal viewpoint character's perception and maybe the perceptions of a troupe. Han Solo's appeal would be far less if he hadn't be prepositioned by his reputation for sly dealing and roguishness.

The Fonz is likewise set up secondhand and thirdhand, partly through gossip, rumor, and legend. Their character development develops inside the developing illusion of reality. Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort, these too. They start off as rumors from within the illusion of reality and develop into perhaps more fully realized characters, sooner than their counterparts, who are less formed beforehand, struggling to reintegrate or integrate their identity matrices, less fully realized until later, if entirely.

On the other hand, Richie and Luke develop firsthand; audiences have to demystify their developing characters without much benefit of other characters' secondhand assessments. Their actions and interactions with others directly develop their characters. Same for Clarice Starling, Isabella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter--though only Voldemort's reputation precedes him, maybe a little of Potter's reputation precedes him but not in any appreciable way. He like Matrix's Neo is the chosen and prophesied undiscovered orphan savior. Anikin Sywalker too, though more akin to immaculate conception's mystique than orphan mystique.

The general shortcoming I see for focal characters is their limited dimensions from excess focus. The strength of that focus process, though, is a degree of mystery to develop and demystify, when managed timely and artfully.

Writing the other is another approach to specimen type narratives. A viewpoint character focuses on another character, the other, in the process, revealing as much or more about the viewpoint character than the observed character through their interactions, the viewpoint character's selections, empathy or antipathy toward the specimen, judgements, biases, attitudes, etc. The shortcoming side of the specimen type comes from too much viewpoint character distant focus on the specimen. The strength side of the specimen type comes from timely and judicious closing contact between the viewpoint character and the specimen. Part of the Other's appeals, though, is the other's mystique, for a viewpoint character and for readers, while part of a viewpoint character's appeals is familiarity.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:

Why is it that some narratives will short shrift the more interesting character in favor of the least interesting character, no matter how that least interesting character came about in the creative process? Why wasn't the first Star Wars not Han Solo's story with Luke Skywalker as the minor character?

This gets to what success means in a genre story: you want the reader's imagination to pick up the ball and run with it. A character has to draw the reader's attention, but at the same time be a tabula rasa upon which the reader can project his own ideas.

I think that's why the secondary characters often take off while the primary characters seem a bit dull. In a plot-first story the protagonist's work is cut out for him before the protagonist's character is fully defined. STAR WARS is cut so closely from the pattern laid out in Joseph Campbell's HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES that Luke does exactly what the pattern demands he do, neither more nor less. If you're at all genre aware, Luke's actions seem predetermined. It's even tougher to add dimension to a hero's journey protagonist in a movie, where we don't have access to the hero's thoughts. You need a really exceptional actor to pull it off. Not that Hamill is a bad actor, but imagine what Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, or even Johnny Depp might have done with that role. Each of them would have put their stamp on the role in a way Hamill could not.

Han, on the other hand, is practically extraneous to the story. He's there to add flavor and style to the story. He's conceived with the *purpose* of being interesting, and having nothing essential to do in the story is a perfect vehicle for the reader's imagination. Add to this the fact that Harrison Ford, while limited in his acting range, has such a charismatic screen presence, and of course Han steals the scenes he's in with Luke.

I see dishwater dull protags in lots of early mss -- the product of a plot-first drafting style. It's usually not that hard to correct, compared to the difficulty teasing plot out from an incoherent mass of character-driven actions.

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Robert Nowall
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On the Fonz being more popular than Richie Cunningham...well, when Ron Howard left the series and Fonzie took center stage, was the result any good? Did it lead to better ratings? Did it please the general populace, or even the Happy Days fan base?
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Denevius
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quote:
Han, on the other hand, is practically extraneous to the story. He's there to add flavor and style to the story. He's conceived with the *purpose* of being interesting, and having nothing essential to do in the story is a perfect vehicle for the reader's imagination.
I agree that he was meant to spice up the narrative. It's strange, though, because from a craft standpoint, he's the only one in the series who starts off with a strong motivation: he has to pay Jabba the Hutt.

He has the most developed and realistic character flaw: he's selfish, thinking only of himself.

He takes the heroes journey: he goes along to rescue the princess, but only for the money in order to pay Jabba.

And he's the only one that, as a result of the heroes journey, makes a change at the end of the story: he comes back to rescue Luke, no longer thinking only of himself because of this friendship he developed, and maybe even because of this Force nonsense, that preaches the exact opposite of what he originally believed, that he's alone in the world.

How the first Star Wars, from a craft standpoint, isn't about Han Solo is a hard argument to make. Everyone else does what the plot forces them to do. Han Solo is the only character with any sort of agency, whereas Luke is led by the plot. He wants to get off the planet and join the rebellion, but when his uncle says maybe next year, really meaning never, Luke accepts *until* a droid gets lost. The droid goes missing, and it's his responsibility to find it, so he sets off to find it.

Once he finds R2D2, and Obie Wan, he's faced with the decision to finally start the quest, but what does he do? He says he can't, once again showing how little agency he has. And then once again the plot swoops in to move the intractable Skywalker onto the game board by having his guardians killed. With nothing left to lose, he finally *follows*, not leads, but follows Obie Wan to a bar, and from there the narrative continues.

What decision of consequence does the Skywalker character ever make entirely on his own?

quote:
Notice none of the secondary characters you mentioned are good, kindhearted souls? Even Burrfoot is a thief (loveable, yes, annoying even more so). No one I've ever talked to has ever been interested in Cameron, but Raistlin? He was one dark, mean, nasty.
You're right here, but you know, I've always thought of the original Dragonlance trilogy as warmup writing for the novels in that world that were actually what those two writers were supposed to write: "Time of the Twins", "War of the Twins", and "Test of the Twins".

The original Dragonlance was such a ripoff of "Lord of the Rings", whereas the Twins books were fresh, interesting, and inspired.

quote:
I qualify that last statement because as appealing as the bad boy character is, that role in real life rarely would work out. The man who tells his boss exactly what he thinks has many bosses.
True, but this is fiction. Seeing how the man who has many bosses manages to live his life is more interesting, isn't it? Have you ever read "A Confederacy of Dunces"? This scenario describes the main character, Ignatius Jacques Reilly, quite well.

Ignatius is the character that would normally be used as a minor persona to spice up the narrative, but instead, the novel is about him, and he's completely insane. The same goes for Captain John Yossarian from "Catch 22", another character full of issues that would normally be reserved for the sidelines but takes center page.

Arthur Dent from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" could have played the straight man to Ford Prefect, but what's the first thing we see Dent do? His house is going to be demolished, and instead of taking it sitting down as a normal person would, he literally lays down in front of the bulldozer.

Maybe it's just easier to write the heroes story from the point when they're still an infant in the narrative, and then to watch how they grow stronger over the course of the story.

quote:
On the other hand, Richie and Luke develop firsthand; audiences have to demystify their developing characters without much benefit of other characters' secondhand assessments. Their actions and interactions with others directly develop their characters. Same for Clarice Starling, Isabella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter--though only Voldemort's reputation precedes him, maybe a little of Potter's reputation precedes him but not in any appreciable way.
Obviously, going this route works. "Happy Days" lasted for years, and "Silence of the Lambs" is a classic movie, though I bet most people would have to google to remember Clarice Starling's name, whereas everyone who's even heard of the movie knows Hannibal Lecter.

But maybe those shows and movies worked more *in spite of* that weakness. Even to this day, it's the Fonz that's a cultural icon, not Riche Cunningham. If the show had focused on Fonzie, would it have worked? Well, obviously it would have had been a totally different series, though to my memory (and according to Wikipedia), he did come to be a central character.

quote:
Fonzie was one of two characters to appear in all 255 episodes of the show. The other was Howard Cunningham, played by Tom Bosley.
Villains are a bit different, as everyone loves a good villain. Even popular action movies that don't have a standout villain seem to suffer for them. Hans Gruber was a "deliciously evil" bad guy. Who's the deliciously evil bad guy in "Ironman"? For a while there, the Batman flicks seemed to exist just to create memorable villains after Jack Nicholson's excellent portrayal of the Joker.

But then, I think of a movie like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", where Yu Shien Lien is no Luke Skywalker, and Jade Fox is definitely no Voldermort.

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Denevius
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quote:
On the Fonz being more popular than Richie Cunningham...well, when Ron Howard left the series and Fonzie took center stage, was the result any good? Did it lead to better ratings? Did it please the general populace, or even the Happy Days fan base?
Yeah, but was the show already in free fall by then? With television series, all of the creative juices are used up but the show limps along anyway because it's a cash cow.
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extrinsic
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Fonzie in many ways exemplifies Vladimir Propp's "villain" dramatis personae as a foil and not as an adversary. He is a diametric counterpoint to Richie and the Cunningham's wholesome lifestyle and values, hence creating a contrast between unseemly and socially acceptable behaviors.

That contrast added depth to the franchise from pitting one set of values, norms, and mores against another. Fonzie developed into a noble character, as much from Richie's influences as from personal maturation. In a sense, the franchise became about the salvation of Fonzie through Richie's agency. For all intents and purposes, the story's end is the Fonz's final transformation into an unequivocal, irrevocable, noble person. That thread runs throughout.

Richie was started and confirmed on that noble path and "entitled" by a normative family upbringing and didn't deviate. He had no transformative direction to go but down into wickedness and misfortune, which would have been counter to the franchise's social adjustment intent. The franchise is a '50s retro narrative of manners portrayed in their contemporary era by Mayberry, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, and the like.

A contemporary parallel might be the Jerry Seinfeld franchise, though it portrays a rigid, twisted value system of self-involved priorities rather than a wholesome value system. It's an extended irony in that regard. "Not like this" the franchise's message claims.

Star Wars too is about salvation and redemption. The Hannibal Lecter epic doesn't go there, instead, it's about the wickedness native among us, part of us, made by us, there but for the grace of Providence go I, and a somewhat sympathetic Faustian victim, the corrupted malefactor we hate to love but do to a degree, and love to hate.

[ December 22, 2013, 06:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:

Richie was started and confirmed on that noble path and "entitled" by a normative family upbringing and didn't deviate. He had no transformative direction to go but down into wickedness and misfortune, which would have been counter to the franchise's social adjustment intent.

Disregarding the generational context as best we can, as writers, we are trying to stay away from a character that has no place to grow, aren't we?

I mean, yes, by the end of Star Wars, Luke kind of develops. In "Revenge of the Jedi", he's now confident and more or less making decisions on his own. Of course, I always thought that flick was the considered the worst of the three. Luke grew, but it was so predictable. I suppose one can say he starts off as the noble character, but only a farmboy on a desolate planet; and he ends off the noble character, but now a Jedi knight saving the galaxy.

He changes his clothes, but nothing else about him undergoes any type of genuine transformation. Who really ever thought Luke might turn to the dark side? To me, a character who holds no potential for surprise is a boring character, but I suppose I can't say Luke Skywalker's name has to be googled to be remembered. If you know Star Wars, you know that name.

It's interesting, though, when I point this out sometimes in critiques, that the main character isn't really very compelling, especially in comparison to a minor character. And a lot of time it's because of this. We're writing a character that may have troubles, but they're basically good, wholesome people. And by the end of the story, as readers, you know good well that they'll continue to be good, wholesome people, except now their conflicts will have been resolved.

It's those other characters, though, the ones that could go either way, that I think end up being remembered long after the last page has been read.

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extrinsic
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Aristotle speaks to this shortcoming in his Poetics, in more than character development, more than causation's function, more than plot development, more than event development, more than setting development, but all those in a glorious synergy. His view was also "generational" to his time. That everyman commoners, women, children, servants, and slaves are not suitable material for a protagonist role, because they don't have, didn't at the time, much control over their destinies and larger-world life of the time.

Oedipus' acts in and of themselves are strengthened by his elevated status in a milieu that respects noble accomplishment, though his achievements were countered by his self-involved carelessness regarding his family. Still, a manners narrative about the rise and fall of a great man brought down by his own hubris.

Though Odysseus' status was high before and at the end of the Trojan war, his Trojan horse ploy angered the gods. Clever and successful, the deceit under a guise of atonement to Athena for the Greeks' desecration of her Troy temple added insult to injury. For his hubris, he was delayed returning home, jeapordizing his high status. The delay set him up for reasserting his right to his throne, his home, and his queen through whom he had right of leadership.

Literary expectations have long since changed. Anyone can be a protagonist anymore. But the kernel of Aristotle's requirement for ascendance from misfortune--comedy--or decline from fortune--tragedy--due to strengths or failings, respectively, of character remains.

On the other hand, not even those classic Aristotlean plot requirements are essential anymore. Other organizing principles may take their place. Maturation at great personal cost is one, or Bildungsroman. Other metagenre organizing principles may as equally be foremost dramatic structures: argumentation, inquiry and answer, research and report features that may overtop performance genre's transformative plot organization features.

A key to developing a fully rounded and dynamic protagonist, or agonist, that satisfies audiences is one who is instrumental in causing desirable transformation at great personal risk, in the case of comedy. Or in the case of tragedy, suffers a great or ultimate personal cost at the point of failure to transform.

The Poetics of Aristotle is worth studying in order to develop an appreciation of the roles other narrative existents like events, characters, and settings play in regard to plotting. Norman Friedman also wrote about how those existent aspects amalgamate into a glorious synergy.

[ December 23, 2013, 04:55 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Fonzie in many ways exemplifies Vladimir Propp's "villain" dramatis personae as a foil and not as an adversary.

You, sir, have just made my day. [Smile]
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wetwilly
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From Denevius:
"I mean, yes, by the end of Star Wars, Luke kind of develops. In "Revenge of the Jedi", he's now confident and more or less making decisions on his own. Of course, I always thought that flick was the considered the worst of the three. Luke grew, but it was so predictable. I suppose one can say he starts off as the noble character, but only a farmboy on a desolate planet; and he ends off the noble character, but now a Jedi knight saving the galaxy."

I've always thought the same thing (but in reverse) about Anakin. Episode 2 promised us to be the story of his decent from light to darkness, but it wasn't. It was the story of a teenage kid who starts off as a little jerk, so he decides he might as well just be on the dark side because that's what little jerks do. There was never a moment when he showed any possibility of being good, so it was a boring story. There is no tension of waiting to find out which way he's going to go.

And it JUST clicked in my head as I was writing that last sentence that that's a problem with my current WIP.

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Robert Nowall
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Think of side characters as there to provide illumination to the story.

Snoopy was essentially a side-character to Charlie Brown---he might go off and have his own adventures, but it's Charlie Brown that's the glue to the comic strip. Without Charlie Brown, Snoopy serves no function.

Peter Pan might be the title character, but the play is really Wendy's story; she's confronted with the problem, she must make the hard decisions.

Mr. Spock seemed more interesting than Captain Kirk---he seemed to get more of the audience response from the audiences. (The joke was that Spock should be captain---he's stronger, smarter, and also a better director.) But the Enterprise, commanded by Spock, would be a less interesting ship.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Disregarding the generational context as best we can, as writers, we are trying to stay away from a character that has no place to grow, aren't we?

Personal growth is one transformative direction for a plot, popular for young and early adult literature. I feel any character-emphasis narrative should involve personal growth taking favorable or unfavorable directions. Coming of age, apprenticeship, and initiation complications happen throughout life, though.

Maybe fantastical fiction hasn't traditionally, generally, involved as much character-emphasis as other genre. Plot emphasis in the form of events has dominated fantastical fiction. Maturation is certainly a character-emphasis feature, though as a secondary or tertiary or lower yet emphasis for action-adventure spectacle that perhaps has the strongest and broadest appeals.

Fantasy generally emphasizes milieu more than character, though with events foremost. Idea emphasis is a mainstay of category science fiction, physical sciences as well as social sciences science fiction, yet event is still foremost. Horror certainly emphasizes event over character emphasis, milieu over character emphasis, and idea over character emphasis.

Aristotle asserted that one unequivocal, irrevocable transformation is required of drama, be it comedy or tragedy. He emphasized character transformation over idea, event, and mileu transformation, though. He also asserted that from good fortune to bad or bad to worse--tragedy--or bad fortune to good--comedy--are suitable transformation directions, favoring tragedy's directions as the height of dramatic arts. He denoted good to good or better fortune as unworthy of drama.

Richie Cunningham's plot arc is more that good to good fortunes than another. Luke Skywalker, though, went from not too terribly bad to better fortunes. He learned about the force, accomplished his dream of becoming an interstellar traveller early on, learned who his father was and redeemed him, learned he had a dear sister, developed meaningful friends, participated actively in defeating the evil empire, and did so at reasonably great personal cost without being corrupted. However, his plot arc is more about his influence upon transformative events than character growth.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Fonzie in many ways exemplifies Vladimir Propp's "villain" dramatis personae as a foil and not as an adversary.

You, sir, have just made my day. [Smile]
I'm not sure why. My best guess is that you favor antagonism to come from well-intended supporters and less so from competing opponents. Please elaborate.
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Denevius
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quote:
Mr. Spock seemed more interesting than Captain Kirk---he seemed to get more of the audience response from the audiences. (The joke was that Spock should be captain---he's stronger, smarter, and also a better director.) But the Enterprise, commanded by Spock, would be a less interesting ship.
And yet, the original Spock continues on in the new movies, whereas the original Kirk doesn't. And when you think of it, it makes pretty good sense, at least. A show about humans exploring the galaxy meeting new and different alien races seems most epitomized in the internal struggle of the half human/half alien first officer, not the womanizing captain.

For a show about interracial/inter-cultural relations, Spock would have made the perfect focus of the narrative. This doesn't exactly mean that he becomes captain. It just means that, if this was a written story, the POV shifts from Kirk to Spock. We're in his head, not the captain's head.

'Call me Ishmael'.

quote:
Richie Cunningham's plot arc is more that good to good fortunes than another. Luke Skywalker, though, went from not too terribly bad to better fortunes. He learned about the force, accomplished his dream of becoming an interstellar traveller early on, learned who his father was and redeemed him, learned he had a dear sister, developed meaningful friends, participated actively in defeating the evil empire, and did so at reasonably great personal cost without being corrupted. However, his plot arc is more about his influence upon transformative events than character growth.
As writers, we can definitely go this way. And as we see, there's success this way. This cannot be denied.

But I feel like what also can't be denied is that when the writers behind these stories created them, set them out in the world, and said, 'Live', the public, viewing these creations as they were meant to be, saw them as they could have been, and made minor characters main character in their imagination, and made main characters minor characters. And once you start deconstructing these narratives, you start to see what the focal characters had in common which made them upstaged by their minor characters.

If you've already met success with your fiction, then that's that. "Star Wars", "Star Trek", "Happy Days", are all extremely famous franchises. But if you're writing a story, and you have a focal character who doesn't pop off the page and get as positive a response from readers as a minor character, it seems like it would make sense to change the POV.

We can look at examples of other work and see what traits these main characters that got upstaged by their minor characters had. And it seems like there was never enough room for growth from the very beginning. They didn't change deeply enough. And when they did change, it was predictable.

We can talk about the great peril Luke underwent in his journey, but seriously, who watches a movie genuinely thinking the main character is going to *actually* die? Sure, we suspend our belief, and the better the movie, the more we can become one with it; but ultimately, we know that at least the main character is going to make it to the end of the movie.

Which is why I think the perils usually aren't enough to make a character iconic. Think of some of the best action movies. 'Alien'. 'Predator'. 'Jaws'. They dish out lots of danger to the focal characters, but it's not the characters themselves that live in the imagination of the audience beyond the movie. It's the monster trying to kill them.

While facing danger will take you so far, personality makes you a legend.

quote:
Maybe fantastical fiction hasn't traditionally, generally, involved as much character-emphasis as other genre. Plot emphasis in the form of events has dominated fantastical fiction. Maturation is certainly a character-emphasis feature, though as a secondary or tertiary or lower yet emphasis for action-adventure spectacle that perhaps has the strongest and broadest appeals.
This is true. Genre fiction isn't character orientated. But in each of these genre pieces we named, from "Dragonlance" to "Star Wars", we see that they contained quite complicated characters that stole the audience's imagination. The problem is that these characters weren't originally the focal characters.

I'll admit this, however. For wider appeal, having Kirk over Spock as the star makes more sense. Or having Luke over Han. Those main characters are easier to mentally digest. Anyone can be a Kirk, or a Luke, and they don't create a lot of angst when you slip on those masks as a reader or audience member. People may be turned on more by Hannibal Lecter, but when they're first introduced to the story, it probably is easier to have Hannibal be a guilty pleasure, while Clarice be the noble heroine whose eyes they see the world through.

And genre writing does tend to go for mass appeal.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, it's hard to say anything about what works and doesn't in Star Trek---there's been so damned much of it that its all a debased form of its original self and going back to the beginning in a reboot was the only way to salvage the franchise for future financial gain. There's no art in the later stuff---and there's also the point of diminishing returns. (I'd also say the presence of Old Spock in the new Star Trek was a matter of Leonard Nimoy being willing to do it, and William Shatner not willing---and nothing else.)
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extrinsic
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I look at the Star Trek reboot as if I were tasked to reinnnovate, sure, reinvigorate, the franchise. I expect the result is the best filmmakers' strategy they could come up with. Younger actors seems to me a given, so the franchise might continue to develop with recognizable and rapport-worthy characters, hopefully in new directions and not just retread themes and motifs.

I'd like to see a reinvention of the red shirt phenomenon, meta self-reflexive but from an ironically cool approach. Troubles with tribbles would also be entertaining if masterfully reinvented. Since the Enterprise's mission is science and culture surveys, more of that emphasized, less of the martial emphasis, would intrigue me. Of course, contact tableaus tend to be contentious, though.

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Denevius
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quote:
Younger actors seems to me a given, so the franchise might continue to develop with recognizable and rapport-worthy characters, hopefully in new directions and not just retread themes and motifs.

They wouldn't take the risk if it meant they might lose mass appeal. That's why they let out that rather lousy "Into the Darkness" movie which botched the best story and villain in Star Trek, Khan.

quote:
I'd like to see a reinvention of the red shirt phenomenon, meta self-reflexive but from an ironically cool approach.
I read "Red Shirts", and thought it was subpar. Kind of like a one-line joke that goes on for way too long. It may have made a good short story, and I can see it making a decent movie, but it didn't work as a novel, in my opinion.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I think you're homing in on why this happens Denevius. Where the side characters are more interesting and more loved is when the main character is an everyman. Everymans are necessarily bland so the reader can put themselves in the place. The side characters are people we might be friends with, but not ones we'd want to be. I also agree that it is usually best to tell these kind of stories from the perspective of these side characters. Taking this back to DragonLance, the Twins trilogy was probably the best thing Weiss and Hickman produced and it was largely told from Tasslehoff's POV (if memory serves). The Siege of Mt. Nevermind does this too to great effect.

It's funny because the few times Spock was in charge he was terrible at it. He had no space in his brain for the rhetoric of command. He didn't care what other people thought of him, he'd probably have a full on mutiny in a week. (I've got a whole essay about how Scotty was better than Spock I've been meaning to write.)

Yeah, in Fantasy/sci-fi character is less emphasised. I think this is because in Sci-fi the idea is king, and in fantasy the setting rules. I don't think it's the rule though. Horror is incredibly character driven, though it is usually the character of the monster. But I don't think this has to be the case. Terry Brooks is pretty character driven. Fahrenheit 451 is a total character story despite the big idea trying to dominate it.

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Robert Nowall
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Another thing about the Original Star Trek---characterwise, you had a central core of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. And whenever there was a problem, in effect Spock and McCoy would debate what was going on inside Kirk's mind, each taking opposite sides on the logic / emotion debate.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Fonzie in many ways exemplifies Vladimir Propp's "villain" dramatis personae as a foil and not as an adversary.

You, sir, have just made my day. [Smile]
I'm not sure why. My best guess is that you favor antagonism to come from well-intended supporters and less so from competing opponents. Please elaborate.
Oh, I'm just a big fan of Propp, but whenever I bring him up I get a MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) response. I guess he goes down better with a spoonful of corn.

The idea of a feckless supporter as an antagonist *is* a good one.

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extrinsic
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I think Joseph Campbell borrowed from Propp wholesale, without contributing much new to Propp's theories. Maybe he westernized the concepts of Russian Formalism and Structuralism, but Europeans especially French had already bought into the concept and process wholesale. Distinctly U.S. schools of literary thought followed, naturally, named New Criticism, that faded out of favor with the Post Modernism era's emphasizing aesthetic creativity over structure.

Pyre Dynasty hits a bull's-eye mark about how lead characters can tend to be everymen who audiences can associate and identify with. Film theory labels this type of character "Audience surrogate," who takes the place within a film's secondary reality of the audience, questioning and challenging otherwise more dynamic and rounded characters, and mirrors the emotional state intended for the audience to have at the moment. Literary theory labels these everymen or every women "reader surrogate."

Richie Cunningham, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO somewhat comic foil as well, Doctor Watson, Leopold Bloom, James Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy, and Scotty, Manillo in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Samwise Gamgee, d'Artagnan, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasely, and so on, fulfill this function to varying degrees.

[ December 24, 2013, 11:00 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Horror is incredibly character driven, though it is usually the character of the monster.
I really like how this is worded, actually.

quote:
Where the side characters are more interesting and more loved is when the main character is an everyman. Everymans are necessarily bland so the reader can put themselves in the place. The side characters are people we might be friends with, but not ones we'd want to be.
This has been batted around a lot when trying to deconstruct the popularity of superhero movies. The masked hero allows even more for everyone to assume the identity of the man (or woman, but let's face it, they're all men) underneath. I guess it's the damsel in distress that the female audience members become, as every superhero has a love interest.

quote:
Film theory labels this type of character "Audience surrogate," who takes the place within a film's secondary reality of the audience, questioning and challenging otherwise more dynamic and rounded characters, and mirrors the emotional state intended for the audience to have at the moment. Literary theory labels these everymen or every women "reader surrogate."
This kind of brings to mind the novel I'm reading now, "Let the Right One In". Don't know if any of you saw the movie, but if you enjoyed it, check out the book. Fills in a ton of gaps that made the movie, which was excellent, still somewhat confusing. But it's definitely not a book with characters that you particularly enjoy being, even though the writer is skilled at making them sympathetic, even if you don't exactly empathize with them.

With the 'everyday man' formula, I guess I'm just not sure that writers realize that's what they're doing. And I'll be honest, the novel I wrote before this current one suffered from this. A phrasing a friend of mine uses when critiquing fiction is learning how to wash the TV from your head. Because I think it's definitely something we subconsciously pick up from doing more TV watching than novel reading.

Though a lot of popular fiction also suffers from this.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Another thing about the Original Star Trek---characterwise, you had a central core of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. And whenever there was a problem, in effect Spock and McCoy would debate what was going on inside Kirk's mind, each taking opposite sides on the logic / emotion debate.

It's been pointed out that the actual main character was The Relationship among the triad, and that without The Relationship, none of them is particularly compelling.
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legolasgalactica
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Dirk Pitt from the Clive Cussler books never grows or changes (except a bit in the last few books which is why his adventures end). We never wonder what he'll do or even if he'll succeed, but only how. But I always liked his character. Interestingly, I was never very taken with many side characters. I wonder how this fits in with the various theories mentioned here.
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legolasgalactica
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Same goes for Indiana jones.
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