Oh Granny, What Big Eyes You’ve Got?

Occasionally, one of our side characters proves to be far more interesting to our reading public than expected. To capitalize on this, we may be tempted to give them a story of their own. Great–if we can do it without violating one of the cardinal rules of characterization. To thy own self be true!

Recently, I read a review of a fantasy novel, in which a past supporting character was given main billing. Unfortunately, the author was tempted–aren’t we are–to alter that character’s personality in radical ways. Worse, to make him a carbon copy of a lead character from another novel. Read below.

“The lead character in Y, X, was introduced in book 1 of the Z series as a somewhat dark, mysterious, knowing and worldly man. (Spoiler ahead – skip to the next paragraph to avoid.) When he reappeared at the end of that series, his character had changed, although it is only in retrospect that it becomes glaring that his back-story and character had not been developed until then, and was likely due to the author’s plotting out this book.

“Now that X has his own series, it is evident that X has lost the mystery, several years, and much of the apparent knowledge and wisdom with which he had been introduced. The only mystery left is kept as an unanswered question. It is so blatantly stated that you even know what the question is – it is just not answered. I find that that question alone is not enough to be interested in X, and I almost did not finish the book. Quite early in this book, I realized that the character, X, was the same in mannerisms, speech and thought patterns, as the lead character in the prior series, A. – In fact, I had to go back and double check that it was supposed to be a different person, and that I hadn’t been confused about the names! – A was ok for one series, but there isn’t enough meat in this plot to carry another him through it, no matter what his name is.”

If the author of this particular fantasy series wasn’t capable of developing heroes of various molds, he would have done his audience a great favor by sticking with a single hero. Making cheap copies of that hero can only disappoint and alienate his fans. But the real crime here is not self-plagiarism, but a failure to respect his audience’s intelligence.

I remember the outrage of a fan who’d read Hannibal (A sequel to The Silence of the Lambs), who claimed that Clarice Starling acted in ways in the book that weren’t at all true to her character.

Clever plot twists aside, respect your character. If he’s the shy, sullen type, he isn’t going to be the life of the party–without your readers asking why. And deserving a damned good answer!

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