I once posted a daily extoling the “side characters” for their unique quirks and lovable personalities. However, as all too often happens in my life, I give a piece of advice then go on to not follow it myself, because I’m living under the assumption that I’m incapable of making a bad decision about something I’m giving advice on. Believer was initially going to be set up to be a four-part story, each part told in the perspective of a different character in the setting, thus blurring the line between “main character” and “side character”. The four parts would roughly correspond to four seasons, providing a look into a defining year of the characters’ lives. I had good ideas for three of the four characters and a rough clue of the fourth, and decided to trundle onwards and fill in the blanks as I went along.
However, I realize now that I was depriving these characters’ abilities to be those side characters I love so very much by giving them that spotlight. There’s a magic in being a supporting character, because they have the ability to be loved and even show a lot of emotion without needing to spend the time to get into their whole life’s story. They can be those static characters and not lose anything for it, because the story doesn’t live or die by their depth. And with a story of four main characters, I’d likely have ended up skimping on all I wanted to do with those characters in favor of giving them all well-rounded and expository character arcs.
More and more during brainstorming I find myself focusing on and finding ideas for just two of the four planned mains: Cecile Smith, and Roquette Johnson (who I may or may not have said the full name of, but she’s been around a number of my dailies). And the more and more I brainstorm, the more I think that rather than fight inspiration, I should embrace it, and focus on just these two. In Believer’s previous incarnation they represented only a part of the themes I wanted to address, but this was before I realized they needed to be dynamic characters and grow in their beliefs. In showing this growth I have more room to talk about what it means to believe, and in cutting down the focused characters from four to two I’ll have more room to flesh them out.
Cecile is going from a character that simply “believed” to a character that wants to believe but can’t. For Cecile, this change is important because I want to portray her as a character that is logistically stable on all practical accounts, but still inwardly torn. All the needs of her normal life—job, apartment, bills, car, family, free time—are adequate or even above adequate to have a decent existence, and she is not an emotional wreck, but she is left wanting for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. This indicates an inner insecurity that would be inappropriate to portray alongside a character that is emotionally and spiritually stable enough to believe in strange fantasies and imaginary friends without any doubt (like her character originally was). I feel that her interpretation of belief in fantasies or religion should mirror the strength of her ability to believe in other, more mundane things, like that the party her friend invited her to is going to be a lot of fun.
Contrast Roquette, who is going from a character that didn’t believe to a character that doesn’t believe but should. Roq is a character that doesn’t take stock in a lot of mumbo-jumbo she can’t see or explain, and focuses on the now; judging things by what they do rather than what they are or what they could become. While it’s a good character trait that indicates a strong will, it paradoxically creates someone who is both close-minded and open-minded at the same time, which I realized when writing some of the dailies with her in them. She might not pre-judge people, but she’s still ultimately judging them, leaving little room for mercy and understanding. Similar to the old Cecile who considered herself “enlightened” with her understanding of contentment, the old Roquette put herself above most people because she was fair and honest. While initially I was content to leave her at that, I’ve had previous experience with self-proclaimed self-righteous characters that have been unlikable, and am inclined not to make the same mistake. Rather than display someone who judges people by the quality of their character, I should display why someone should judge people by the quality of their character, and how best to do that in a way that doesn’t make you come off as a tactless prick.