Seein’ that its Tuesday

Seein’ that its Tuesday, I figured I’d dig up an old blog post and re-post it for all you who’ve just started following me. This one’s from my old Blog on Goodreads. It’s one of my Letters on Literary Devices, a fun, mock-epistolary take on literary critique. Hope you don’t mind sarcasm. Check her out!

 

LETTERS ON LITERARY DEVICES 3: MINOR CHARACTERS

To all you underdeveloped, two-dimensional, cardboard cut-out flat, uninteresting, unengaging, unrealistic, stereotypical characters out there that ain’t worth the key strokes your author wasted on your creation:
This letter’s for you.
If there is one thing that readers the world over seem to agree on it’s this: you and all your friends are the scum of the literary universe. Yea, I’m talkin’ ’bout all your buddies. The author surrogate, the foil, the stock character, parallel characters, dichotomous characters, all you bastardized step-children of the well-rounded, complex protagonist, and morally flawed antagonist who is still deserving of our empathy.Nine out of ten times (I made that statistic up) when I read a bad review of a novel it’s because one of you son’s of bitches decided to show up in an otherwise merit-worthy book.Characters like you are described as annoying, inconsistent, unimportant, unnecessary, strange, etc. etc. the list goes on and on, you get the idea. But if somehow you didn’t, allow me to be perfectly clear: readers hate your guts.

Now, I’ll be honest. There was a time in my life, a dark time, when I felt the same way too. I’m admitting it. I hated you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but what can I say, I was on this kick where I was into reading excruciatingly long novels by writers like Tolstoy and Steinbeck. There’s nothing quite like pages and pages of character development to turn a man against other elements of storytelling such as plot and conflict, allegory and symbolism, all those other aspects of a story that you and your pals are often used to create.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here. Most of the time when readers complain about a flat, underdeveloped character they are talking about the protagonist, the main guy or gal that the story is all about. And I admit, in many cases, an underdeveloped main character can ruin a story.

But you, the less developed minor character, I got your back. I’m on your side. I know you serve a purpose.

Whether your author created you to speak his her own opinions, to serve as the ying for the protagonist’s yang, to represent a stereotypical idea, to serve as a exclamation point highlighting a major characters attributes, or to represent a contrasting extreme, I know you’re doing your job, and I like you now (Sorry if that last sentence didn’t make sense. Each item in the list is a playful definition of the bastardized step-children mentioned in paragraph three).

Yes, I admit it, I have changed my beliefs on characters. And with a newly opened mind I can’t help but wonder: have I been wrong all along. Have I and readers everywhere assumed unfairly that it is well-rounded characters above all else that make a book worth reading?

And immediately I am struck with a realization. There are some seriously flat characters, from some seriously enjoyable classic books that I found to be both gripping and interesting. Coriolanus from Coriolanus, Barkis from David Copperfield, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. These characters, a protagonist, a minor character, and an antagonist are all flat as can be, all have a single motivation, and yet, each holds my interest.

Why? That’s the question. Why? Each for a different reason I suppose. The first’s inability to change leads to his tragic, and suspenseful downfall. The second’s singularity in purpose serves to develop an important theme. The third’s desire for revenge swallows both him and his entire crew alive.

Although none of the above mentioned characters could be described as round, each contributes allegorical significance to their respective stories, and each functions as a driving force in the plot.

Even though I still love characters, well developed characters that serve as the sole purpose in a character driven novel, I can see now, that stories don’t have to be about characters and characters only.

Come to think of it, I don’t think us readers give you less developed characters enough credit. And I think we’ve been a little hard on those authors that have chosen you over your more fully developed counterparts. It’s funny really. It’s ironic. With all the criticism out there, and all the pressure for authors to develop characters, we, as readers, for the sake of rounding out characters, have limited an author’s ability to create a well-rounded book.

So, in conclusion, I hope you forgive me for past prejudice. I was harsh, but I’m sorry, and I’d like to be friends.

Sincerely,
Your New BFF, Eric James-Olson

About Eric James-Olson

Eric James-Olson writes novels and short stories. Currently, he's working on a coming-of-age novel set in the Panhandle of West-Virginia. Check out the "Novels by Eric James-Olson" tab above for the titles of his other books. In addition to writing, James-Olson is a high school English teacher, an amateur woodworker, and an outdoor enthusiast. He lives with his wife and daughter in West Virginia. View all posts by Eric James-Olson

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