Here’s My Stop!

Dustfinger, from Inkheart, is very complicated.  The Book Chewers just published a guest post about him that I wrote, so you can read all about him there.  The main discovery I made in that post, however, was that his goals don’t agree with the protagonist’s goals– nor do they disagree.  This makes him a strange character.

Look, for instance, at the epic fantasy Team of Awesome.  The old guy who wants the prophecies fulfilled and the world set to rights.  The young hotshot who wants to spit in the face of Lord Maleficent.  (He might be a traitor eventually.)  The girl who really just exists for the romance plot line, but Lord Maleficent killed her father.  And the protagonist, the Chosen One, born to fulfill a prophecy spoken ages ago by an old blind soothsayer.

What do they want?  The old guy wants the world better again.  The hotshot wants glory.  The girl wants revenge.  The protagonist might want anything, but it’s always associated with Lord Maleficent dying.

Lord Maleficent probably wants to live.

All of these goals center around Lord Maleficent.  He’s a pretty important guy for this story.  But if we create any more heroes focused on Lord Maleficent, what’s to keep him from getting a swelled head about it?  You might as well name the story after him.

Enter Dustfinger, the perfect way to bring the big characters down a notch.  Dustfinger cares not for Mo, not for Meggie, not for Fenoglio, not for Capricorn– he cares only for the book, Inkheart, his one path back home.  You could rewrite the book from his perspective, the story of how he finally gets back home.  But that would be boring, and it would rob us of an awesome side character.

Dustfinger has a goal separate from that of the main character, but their goals lie in the same place.  They journey alongside one another, tying things together, but actually creating two stories in the same novel.

It takes an incredible imagination to create two plot lines within the same novel, but it be easier than you think.  We think of multiple character arcs– the girl who lost her father, the hotshot struggling with his allegiances, the old guy who dies– but what about multiple stories?  It’s slightly harder, yes, but think about it.  More than once, I’ve planned sequels before writing the first books in the series.  Why not add the two together?  No, not completely, or your main character would be finding the magical thingamajig while trying to kill Lord Maleficent.  What would happen if you gave finding the magical thingamajig to the love interest girl?  And hey, that thingamajig is in the greasy clutches of Lord Maleficent himself.  Whaddayano?

Of course, this isn’t completely unheard of: Star Wars, for example.  Han Solo, smuggler, gambler, captain of the Millennium Falcon, only wants money to pay off his debts.  He has no personal problem with evil ruling the galaxy.  Luke Skywalker might want to blow up stuff, but that’s not Han’s problem– once he gets his money, he’s gone.  The separate plot line creates the one character in the movie that everyone loves.

Mulch Diggums from Artemis Fowl, only wants gold, and to be out of his goblin-filled prison cell.  He doesn’t care if Artemis fails or succeeds– if he gets money, he’s fine.  He is one of the best characters in that book.

Obviously, this works best with the dishonest; people who care only about themselves won’t get caught up by the nobleness of bringing evil to an end, so they can complete their own tasks without hindrance.  But if they’ve formed any sort of attachment with the main characters, there can be an emotional scene where they decide whether to get off the train here or personally help evil fall.

It is difficult to juggle several plot lines at once.  Victor Hugo was a genius to create something like Les Miserables.  But however difficult it is, a separate plot line will bring that character high above the rest.


58 thoughts on “Here’s My Stop!

  1. Wow, your timing for this post is really good. I just realized the other day that everything I’ve written in Falsely Accused thus far revolves around the MC, and it’s been bugging me. I’ve been wanting to add in a subplot with another character, and this gives me something new to think about.

    Good post. I need to reread Inkheart.

    1. I have impeccable timing, I must say. I always seem to write just what I need. Funny.

      I need to reread Inkheart too. Well… no, I probably don’t, but I was perusing the first few chapters the other day and almost got sucked in then and there.

  2. Artemis Fowl was definitely not one of the books I would put on my “Awesomeness” list. I was bored with it. Artemis didn’t ever run into any trouble, and even when he did, it all resolved itself in the end in a way that made me sit back and go, “Hmm. That was kind of…lame.”

  3. I’m rereading Inkheart.
    I’d never thought about that before– how Dustfinger’s goals have nothing to do with Capricorn. It is an interesting thought.
    You have typo in the last sentence.

  4. An excellent point Liam! That said, be careful with too many plotlines – it’s all too easy to get tangled and muddled, and end up leaving things hanging more than concluding it all at the end. Also, if the side characters’ plot arcs are more interesting than that of the protagonist, it can get squicky – namely that your poor protagonist, whose arc drives the plot with the highest stakes will be overlooked and considered a rather poor character in comparison. Of course, there’s plenty of ways around this issue (namely by making your protagonsit, you know, interesting, or else turning the whole thing into a proper multi-narrator project anyway), but it’s something to watch.

    1. You’re quite right, though anyone with sense will make sure to wrap things up at about the same time.

      Inkheart, Artemis Fowl, and Star Wars are all third-person omniscient (Star Wars is third-person cinematic, but I don’t think that matters), so there are no set narrators. Dustfinger narrates a few chapters here and there, as does Mulch, and we get to see Han Solo doing his bit just as much as we see Luke Skywalker. (But you haven’t seen Star Wars, have you? I apologize.) That omniscience helps keep the threads from eclipsing one another.

      1. Hmmmm, true! I get a little annoyed when characters just have filler chapters, though – it feels bitty for me to write, though I don’t have major issues with reading it.

      2. Yeah – I though it was a bit weird at first, but it kind of fits the character; he refuses to commit to full time narrative perspective, but has to nip in every now and again to let us know what he’s up to xD

  5. This has nothing to do with the post (sorry!).

    Just needed to let you and Quirk know, Liam, that I never respect the characters more than the authors. Sorry for them, but the authors CREATED them. If I respect a character a lot, it means I respect his or her creator even more.

    That is all. I shall read this post later.

  6. Have you ever read a book with no constant side characters at all, and if so, how was it?
    I mean, I guess it worked in Life of Pi, but in a book other than something totally and mind-blowingly genius?
    P.S. I love a book with interesting side characters.

      1. More like ones that are more in the background, and not present all the time. In Harry Potter an example of a non-constant side character is Cornelius Fudge.

      2. It depends on your definition of inconstant. Technically, if a side character isn’t in every chapter of the book, he or she is inconstant, and that means every book contains only inconstant characters.

      3. This is exactly how you reacted the first time I asked the question (see above).
        Let me be more specific. There are no constant companions, like, say, the Pevensie children. Sure, Edmund gets abducted for a few chapters, but he is still a constant companion. Imagine if the only characters in the book were Lucy, the beavers, the armies from the climax, and maybe Aslan. That is the book I’m talking about.

      1. That’s what he says (or used to say or said) when someone asks “How can you write horror?”
        “I have the heart of a little boy. It’s in a jar on my desk.”

        He also said “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

      2. It is good advice. I keep finding good Stephen King quotes.
        What if it wasn’t a heart? What if it was a brain? Yeah, it’s cliche to mad scientists, but what if it was a brain?

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