Stewie and Brian
If you’re working on a novel, and you’ve never heard Stewie questioning Brian the Dog about his work in progress, allow me to share with you one of the more brilliant moments from prime time television. I’m not even a big Family Guy fan, but this clip makes me laugh every time. It’s like a mini MFA, in two minutes flat, as taught by a evil cartoon toddler.
Got a big stack of papers there?
Got a compelling protagonist?
Got an obstacle for him to overcome?
Got a beginning, middle and end?
Do some friends become enemies, enemies become friends?
It’s that last one that my husband and I like to trow out at each other as a joke in that sly, drawn out voice…. friends become enemies, enemies become friends?
So I pretty much had to blog about the fact that this was one of my husband’s bigger notes on my most recent draft.
It’s always hard to take feedback, even when it’s from someone who so thoroughly has my back, but this particular note actually sparked a bit of laughter, because, well, Stewie.
In short, my husband recognized that I have a few characters in my story that start out neutral, and then go either good or bad. His main suggestion on that front was to push their starting point away from neutral.
Friends Becoming Enemies
For the characters that end up being my protagonists allies, he suggested making them more distasteful at the start. Vice versa for the characters who end up causing trouble – he proposed that maybe they start out being on my main character’s good side.
It’s a subtle shift, but it gives even my minor characters a path to travel. The story is just more interesting if allegiances shift over the course of the story.
I’m not going overboard on this one. I’m not going to turn a neutral character into bank-robbing murderer. Nothing that dramatic. But in these final stages of editing my novel, it’s little things like this that are making it feel more complete.
I suppose some people set up these character traits from the start, outlining and doing character studies. It’s making me consider how I might make these kinds of decisions much earlier in my next project.
Do you actively consider the character arcs of your minor characters? Do you find the whole “friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends” paradigm useful? I would love to hear how my fellow writers deal with this.