Grappling with Two Character Types

From Writer Unboxed:

There’s a character in a novel I’m writing at the moment who, despite having passed on some time before the beginning of the action, haunts the story. Not in the literal way of a ghost story, but their memory and influence shapes a good deal of what one of the main characters does, which has ripple effects on other characters and on the narrative itself. This shadow character is key to the story but not a main character as such. It’s not an easy one to write, because their actions in the past can seem incomprehensible and even abhorrent at times. Yet, in order for the main character to progress in their own life, they need to come to terms with those actions, to understand and possibly to forgive them.

Developing a shadow character who isn’t particularly sympathetic and who only appears through the eyes of others remembering them, never speaking for themselves, has been quite a tricky task. How a) do you make them seem fully rounded, and b) how do you avoid readers disliking them so much they lose patience with the story itself?

I knew that I must not let my own feelings about their behavior taint my portrayal of them. I had to be as objective as possible whilst also conveying the very real effect the shadow character’s actions had on different people’s lives. I had to subtly indicate possible reasons for why the shadow character behaved as they did, yet not make it too obvious, either. It’s not necessary to turn them into a more likable character, but at the same time they need to be at least relatable so readers don’t completely write them off. It’s quite a balancing act—but so far, it’s working!

On the other side of the coin to the enigmatic shadow is another important type of character whose inner thoughts and feelings readers are not privy to, except through the reactions of the main characters. Like the shadow, they aren’t main characters, but they are also very important, key to the development of the story. And, as in the case of the shadow, you only see their inner selves reflected through the eyes of others. But unlike the shadow, they are highly attractive. And they can speak for themselves, because they are physically present, not shadows at all. In fact, hearing their voices whilst seeing them purely through the eyes of one of your main characters can enhance their presence and appeal, sometimes so strongly, especially in the case of a love interest, that it feels as though you are being swept away in that powerful feeling yourself.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

2 thoughts on “Grappling with Two Character Types”

  1. Lisey’s Story is a good example of that.

    Lisey’s Story: A Novel

    The husband is dead, and the wife is still dealing with his absence. She discovers in cascading flashbacks memories that she had suppressed most of the strange events with her husband.

    Bag of Bones is close as well.

    Bag of Bones: A Novel

    The character is both dealing with his wife’s death and the entity that is haunting the area.

    • What’s interesting about Bag of Bones is that the lake the town is built around is basically alive and forms a realm that everybody is connected to.

      That is similar to the ABC TV series, The River (2012).

      The River – Official Trailer -First Look 2012

      I suspect that both stories are based on the concept that the soil that lines the lake and the river form living beings of vast power.

      In The Tall Grass by King and his son, Joe Hill, is based on the same concept.

      In the Tall Grass | Official Trailer | Netflix

      I have massive Story notes on how to clear out the Tall Grass, but don’t see how to do that safely. The rock at the center worries me. HA!

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