The love of bit characters

Posted: December 3, 2014 in reading, watching
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

gal-jeff-conaway3-jpgDo you have characters in books and shows who you love out of all proportion to their role in the story?

I know I do. A number of characters get killed in the books I’m currently ghost writing. Because I didn’t develop the plot, those deaths aren’t my own doing, and I still feel that emotional tug you do when you’re reading a book and a character dies. I feel some sad for these guys.

You’d have thought that the deaths of significant characters would be the most emotional, but so far the one that’s hit me the most was a minor character who existed to meet a horrible death. Knowing he was coming up in book two, I introduced him in book one as a friendly extra, so that he’d at least have a bit of significance. And it really worked. I hated to see that guy die. The extra effort I’d put into building him up meant I cared way more about his death, even though he hadn’t featured all that much.

The same thing happened to me as a viewer when the character of security officer Zack Allan appeared in Babylon 5. First the actor turned up as an extra in a security uniform. After he’d done that a couple of times I recognised him as ‘that security guard’. Then he got a few lines. Then a name. Then a place in the show’s credits and his own character arc. As a concept, he was one of the less interesting characters in the show, mostly there to fulfil some plot functions. But because I’d seen him emerge from obscurity, because I’d been cheering him on to become someone significant, I loved that character.

I have a vague idea that this is an underdog thing, or about a sense of ownership over the character, but really I’m just guessing. So what do you folks think? And do you have minor characters who you really love? Leave a comment, share your thoughts.

  1. glenatron says:

    Garibaldi is speaking with a couple of alien missionaries in the arrivals area of the station early in Season 3 when he is called away by Sheridan: “Zack, explain the missionary position to these people.”

    Still possibly my favourite line from the entire show. One of the things I really liked about it was that there was genuine humour in among the drama, that made it feel more real in a way.

    • That was what I loved about Londo in particular, though this is getting into main characters rather than bit players – his combination of humour and tragedy. This is probably my favourite bit from him:

  2. In my current book, I’ve killed off a couple bit characters I really liked or felt for, because of the impact they’d have on the other characters. It’s sad to have to do it — I’m the kind of writer who has names and stories for everyone in the background, even if they’re never stated — but hopefully the readers have attached just a little bit too, so will understand the protagonists’ feelings.

    Reminds me of how everyone was torn up when Phil Coulson died in Avengers…

    • Oh yes, Coulson’s another really good. And again, you see just enough of him that you like it when he gets better lines, then better suits, then his own scenes, and then… then I was really rooting for the good guys.

  3. Erin Drushel says:

    Zack Allan is an *awesome* example! 😀

  4. Arde Mayhew, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga novels. It is highly unlikely, though, that Arde will ever get his own novel, or even a major story thread within a novel mostly about someone else.

  5. Jon Taylor says:

    “My cabbages!”

  6. glenatron says:

    My favourite, after a few days contemplation, is Llonio, the luckiest man in the world from the Chronicles Of Prydein. Both a tremendous character and a life philosophy that stuck with me ever since.

    • Is it wrong that I’ve never read Prydain? I know The Black Caldron is something of a classic, but I never got to them as a kid, and my fondly remembered young fantasy reading is mostly Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books.

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