Imagine life without Dobby
After my previous post, in which I bragged about how much writing I do in a day, today I totally slacked off and went to the tennis - it's the Australian Open in Melbourne at the moment.
So I spent hours and hours staring at various courts and watching several games. I admit my mind wandered, just a little. Although the tennis was pretty good, the players spend so much time psyching themselves up and bouncing the ball before serve and whispering to their doubles partner, you have plenty of time to look around and there's not much else happening. So you have to watch the ball boys and girls.
(Stay with me here - there is a point.)
Those ball boys and girls work so damn hard. They have to fetch the balls in between shots, make sure there are more than enough tennis balls available at the serving end, run around, crouch down in awkward positions, and they even have to be towel monitors.
Have you ever tried it? It must be very stressful.
Anyway, the thing I realised is that they are very like minor characters in a book. Without them, the game couldn't go on. Or at least, it would be a great deal slower and you'd have to wait for the players to chase balls all over the court. Which would be dull. The ball girls and boys are not only very skilled, they keep the narrative of the match - the story - flowing. They make it possible.
It's the same with minor characters in a book - the best friends, the sisters or brothers, the crims, the fairy godmothers, the old crones met along the mountain trail. Evil or helpful, friend or foe (or both), the minor characters in a book speed the story along, even though sometimes they may hold up the hero or heroine's progress on their quest - or even send them down a wrong path. It's the minor characters who provide critical information, guidance, back-up in a fight, support, and intrigue. Sometimes they start everything rolling. Sometimes they save the day - and die trying. Think of Primrose in The Hunger Games, who starts the action by being so lovable that Katniss volunteers to take her place in the games. Think of the Ents or Gollum in Lord of the Rings, or Ollivander and Dobby in the Harry Potter books.
In a great read, they make up a cast of fascinating people who are as interesting as the heroine or hero. Sometimes even more so. I'm thinking for example about Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, in which you have cool characters like Magnus Bane the warlock, Luke the surrogate dad and part-time werewolf, Isabelle the shadow hunter, and a whole range of faerie queens and vampires and bad guys. They are all much more entertaining than the two main characters, Clary and Jace, whose heads I want to bang together (that's not an insult to the author, I'm sure - she has made Clary and Jace misunderstand and miscommunicate and drive each other, and us, mad).
Without well-drawn and interesting minor characters, a book is not just boring. It also falls apart. Imagine Harry Potter without Luna and her dad - or Narcissa Malfoy. Imagine Hunger Games without Haymitch. I'm sure you can think of many other perfect examples.
Minor characters keep things moving, and also give us something else to watch if the major players are being boring.
So thank you, ball girls and boys of the literary world. Even Gollum.