Question: Where are the interesting sidekicks?
So I've been reading for a literary agency for little under a week now. Yes, I'm a 40 year-old intern. (Well, getting close to forty...And, when I'm 60, I'm going to look and act just like this woman in this picture!) Anyway, in this short amount of time I've noticed a trend in the manuscripts coming via email. The main characters might be interesting, but the sidekicks....not so much.
So, I went to a park in San Francisco...
Guess what I saw? That's right, interesting people. I sat there for a while and asked myself:
- Who would I want to hang out with and why?
- Who would I switch places with for a day?
- A week?
- The man in silver: He's a sideshow one man act. He moves like metal, looks like metal, and acts like a robot. I want to hang out with him for a while. Where's he go when he's done? How long does it take to remove that paint? How did he learn his act? Does he make a good living doing it?
- The Tai Chi woman in the park: She's an older Chinese woman. Grey hair, but healthy and long. She moves so gracefully to her own inner rhythms. How long does she do this? Why? Does she feel odd on display like this for everyone to see? Where does she live?
- Hippie Group: A threesome hippie group, ages around late teens, early twenties. All have instruments - guitar, drum, some kind of flute. They seem so happy, smiling at each other through their filthy clothes and brownish teeth. Hair in dreads. Where are they from? Where are they going? Is this there home town or have they traveled far? Who have the met? What's their plan in life?
- Naked people/Dressed up people on bikes:Yes a whole slew of mostly naked people dyed all sorts of odd colors sped by me. I wanted to join them!! Unclothe, dress up - paint myself blue. Why not? What got them to do this? Why? Is this an every month thing, or something special? Where do they go after their ride? Are they students or just took the day off to be a bit nuts? How's it feel to ride a bike mostly naked?
- Guy with dog dressed in cowboy hat: This dog could do tricks. And it loved its hat. How long did it take this guy to train this dog? Why a cowboy hat because he's dressed normal, no cowboy in him? Does he make any real money with this act? How much attention does the dog get? Ever get a date due to the dog?
- Clean up Crew: They look rough around the edges. They laugh with each other but don't engage with park goers. How have they landed this job? Is is some kind of punishment or paid? What things do they find in the park? What secrets do they know about the park?
- Old Men Playing Chess: They seem really serious about their game. They smoke, have coffees, rarely laugh. How long have they been coming here? Are their wives alive? Is this what they do all day? What lives did they lead before this? Are they happy? What have they seen in this park that they've ignored?
- Homeless young person sleeping on a bag against a tree: Where is his family? Does he have any? How can he sleep with all this noise and kids running around? When was the last time he ate? What's his plan? Is he crazy or just done with people? What's he do all day? Does he have any friends?
- Old woman with dolls: It looks like this woman is having tea time with her dolls. Kids come over to watch. They like her immediately. She's one of them, still playing in her fantasy world. I think I'm more like kids and her than a regular adult too. I'm still playing in my fantasy world. I want to have tea with them. Is she crazy or just fun loving? Does she do this everyday? What do kids tell her? What secrets does she know? Which doll is her favorite? When did she start doing this? Where does she go?
- There are many interesting characters out there
- I could totally end up a sideshow
- Don't make side characters predictable
- No one wants to hang out with someone like themselves in a book - they want new, different, odd, fun, weird, crazy
- I have to research these people and what their lives are like
- Go to a city park where there's a lot going on
- Pick 5 people or groups you'd love to know more about
- If not dangerous - approach and ask questions
- If maybe dangerous - ask other park goers about them
- Research your new side character / main character
- What would you do if you were that person?
- Ask questions to yourself about possible outcomes of that person's life or choice.
And...have fun in the process!