Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Secondary characters and info

There was a post on Romancing the Blog yesterday and Julie Cohen also did a blog awhile back on JK Rowling's revelations about Dumbledore. I will admit that I wasn't surprised, mainly because I had read the last book and knew about his intense relationship with Grimwald, and it did remind me of the Charles Ryder/Sebastian Flyte relationship in Brideshead Revisited. I also tend to think of Dumbledore as a Mr Chips type character. He was someone who loved passionately once (perhaps unwisely) and then suffered. It also goes someway towards explaining why he was wary of Tom Riddle -- namely that his pursuit of knowledge echoed Grimwald's. Or was it his own and he knew what dark passages it could lead to if unchecked. In many ways, it doesn't matter as the main story would have still played the same, as the end result is the same.
But it does through up an intriguing question -- authors have to know much more about their world than readers do, should they share that knowledge? Or should it be something that readers if they want to can fill in the blanks? And when should that knowledge be shared? Because sometimes, if the author is going to write more stories about that particular milieu, the author could need to keep secrets.
When I am writing, I do know why other characters are in the cast and what their backgrounds are. The tip of the iceberg principle. I do a lot of research on both the setting and the characters that populate the worlds I write about. It is always a juggling act - -what does the author need to know and what does the reader.
For example, with The Gladiator's Honour, I knew the whole back story of Aquilia and how he came to be as well as how Tigris and his wife met. With A Noble Captive, I had to know how Helena's aunt became the sybil and Helena's mother was like and her romance with Helena's father. I also had to understand Tullio's relationship with his former wife. With Taken, I could describe the whole journey Haakon took with Asa ten years before the book started. I also know a lot about Asa's motivations and about Thorkell and the court intrigue. With A Christmas Wedding Wager, I ended up know all about Lucy and Henry Charlton's courtship and the Charlton family dynamics. This held me in good stead when I came to write Lottie's story (still untitled but will apparently have the word Debutante in it and possibly scandal). BUT the information does not really impact on the story and readers do not need the info to enjoy the story. In fact if they did know the info, the focus would be lost and the pace would slow to a crawl. Hopefully, the knowledge I have ultimately makes the world more real to the reader. However, if the end result stays the same does the motivation of a secondary character matter to anyone beyond the author?
I would argue very strenuously that an author needs to know the motivations of their secondaries, in particular their major secondaries if they want to avoid two dimensional characters and flat worlds, but should they reveal it afterwards? Is preliminary work interesting or distracting? Or does it depend on the author and the book? I am undecided about it but there again, I am a writer and I like to play guessing games about characters.
I am blogging at Tote Bags today about preparing for Christmas and am giving away a copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.
My newsletter should go out at the weekend and it will contain another chance to win a copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.

1 comment:

Donna Alward said...

First of all, congrats on the review. SO happy for you!

Secondly, you were the first person to hit me with the "You need to know this but the reader doesn't" which goes hand in hand with "It was a scene you had to write but not one the reader has to see". It has been a revelation. I do a lot more shuffling and cutting now because I will write a scene and know it doesn't work, but I had to write it because it made me see something that DOES need to be there.

And you would be proud...I just said that very thing in a critique I did. :-)