Saturday, August 15, 2009

A side-note on supporting characters

I've been reading a few category books lately. In terms of satisfaction, they tend to be hit and miss, especially as so many of them are series that I either unwittingly (and unwillingly) find myself in the middle of, or find myself at the beginning of with no desire to hunt down the rest.*

But that's a discussion for another day - April 11th to be precise. What I really want to talk about is the true role of a SUPPORTING character.

I'm reading a book right now that has six rather major supporting characters. I know them all by name. And I know them all by how they relate to the main characters. That is ALL I know about them. This is something that I really appreciate about this book. If we've been told anything about what they look like, it's only a sentence, maybe two. We know nothing of their hopes, dreams, aspirations, how they grew up, or what informs their personalities.

They are fully fleshed-out, 3D characters who clearly have more depth than we are shown on the page, but that depth is revealed in their interactions with the main characters, and only in those interactions. Not in long introductions about why they are who they are, not in sidebars told info-dump style about how the H or H met them or who their spouses are or even in meandering soliloquies out of the supporting characters' mouths themselves. No, we see exactly who these people are through the well-chosen words that leave their mouths and through how their actions (or lack thereof) affect the main characters.

I'm only halfway through this book, it could tank in the second half, but somehow I doubt that's going to happen. The author is clearly a gifted story-teller and her long list of publishing credits indicate that she's been at this for a while. In fact she just threw in a twist that was so beautifully set-up I am aching to know if she's a pantser or a plotter, and if she knew she was going to have to throw in a test like this, or if it came to her in a dream or she reverse engineered it because something in the characters was telling her to dig deeper. But I'm digressing again, back to the supporting characters.

Now, one of the things that may be helping this along is that I don't feel like I'm being set up for a sequel. Sometimes these things are inevitable, and oftentimes they're heavy-handed, but I have faith in the author that this book will have everything wrapped up in a nice, neat bow for me by the time I hit the HEA Epilogue, which means her supporting characters are just that. Supporting. They're not making their debut before they take the stage themselves. They don't have to steal a single scene to whet our appetite for their own stories.

These supporters of her main characters show up to reveal the strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and qualities in our H & H. Isn't that really what a supporting character is supposed to be about? Not a single one of them is "perfect," or "zany," or "sassy." They're just real-life people in our H & H's real-life world that make things better, and worse, and challenging, and fulfilling. And, even more than that, we get to see how Heroine reacts to Hero's supporting characters, and then challenges him on being a better person with them ... and then, vice versa. It's almost, like, I don't know, a real relationship or something.

I'm going to head back to my cozy bed and finish the book now. I hope the author didn't get sticken with a deathly case of The Tropes before she finished the book. Somehow, I have a feeling she'll retain her refreshing style 'til the end and once again I'll be properly schooled on That's How You Tell A Story!

Wish me luck.

Currently reading: No Rest For the Wicked
Currently reading: Mother In the Making
Currently reading: Practice Makes Perfect

*[See IRONY: The book I'm writing right now is the first of a two-book category-length series. Cross ref:- HYPOCRISY]


Erika said...

I have read Practice Makes Perfect (Julies James right?). I really liked it. I'm curious to know what you think of it when you're done. As I know this is not the book you are referring to in your blog (cuz it doesn't have that many supporting characters) I'm curious as to the title. I would love to read it. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie is exactly like this book you're describing and I thought that might be it until I got to your list of current reads at the bottom.

Do tell, inquiring minds and all that.

Venus Vaughn said...

PMP was a good read, though something in the back of my head was resistant to reading about lawyers. I think maybe it was the whole Been There Done That feel of 'hardened career woman.' And the fact that the job itself provided the main conflict also didn't help in its appeal.

OTOH, it was a really good read, and that's a testament to Ms James' writing that she could make me enjoy the book when I had so much internal resistance to it.

And I might pick up Bet Me again this week because we all need a bit more Crusie in our lives.

But the book I was referring to was the one listed in the Currently reading: Mother In the Making by Lilian Darcy. A very well-written category. The cover and title are victims of the marketing department, as they don't have much to do with the story. It's not a Desert Isle Keeper or anything, but I'd happily pass it to someone who is looking for a good category read.

Erika said...

Have you read Just The Sexiest Man Alive also by Julie James? Better than PMP IMHO.

I will look for Mother In the Making at my local library. Thanks for the suggestion. :D

Venus Vaughn said...

Yeah, I read Just the Sexiest Man Alive. Again, it was about a lawyer, but at least the hero had a different profession. And it was also a fun read. A nice straight contemporary with a really good voice. Plus my fifth planned book has a movie star hero, so I was really interested in seeing how she handled the trope :-)

If you want Mother in the Making I'd be happy to send it to you the next time I go to the Post Office. Right now it's just languishing in my Paperback Swap queue, and categories rarely "sell."

It's a good study in supporting characters (duh) and internal conflict.

Drop me an e-mail if you're interested.

Erika said...

Sorry for the late response. I have a TON of books in my TBR pile. I have no idea when I'd get to it, but thank you SO MUCH for the offer.