I’ve always liked cartoons. I still love Sailor Moon, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and if I manage to catch an episode of Hey Arnold, I feel like my whole day is brighter. Cartoons are funny and entertaining, but with Guyden in my life I’ve been exposed to an entirely different brand of cartoons: educational-type. Not gonna lie, I’m not a big fan. Sometimes I’d rather set myself on fire than watch another episode of Special Agent Oso. He’s oh so special. No, that’s for real. Kill me.
One of the shows that we regularly catch is the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Each day they have a new problem to solve and they have these little mouseketools they call for when they get in a pinch. Usually, there are four, and they’re all kind of random. A marshmallow, a vase, a blanket, and the *mystery mouseketool*! An elephant, a compass, an apple, and the *mystery mouseketool*!
You get the idea.
Well, there was an episode recently where one of these mouseketools was a giant piece of celery. My thought was that Minnie and Daisy, concerned with their girlish figures, would eat that as a healthy but tasteless snack at some point in the day, as long as the boys weren’t watching. But I was wrong. Goofy got stuck up on a cliff and they used the giant celery as a slide to get him down. Well played, Mickey, well played.
My point is, sometimes things that seem obvious aren’t. For me, I’ve been discovering this with some of my characters recently. Just last week, I handed over the draft of the second book in the Selection trilogy to my editor. I had a whole new adventure with America and, while I was pretty aware of the things she was going to do, I was a bit surprised by what some of her friends pulled out.
There’s one girl in particular who was SO sure I knew who she was, but after how things went down as the story continued, I had to ask myself why she acted the way she did. As I’m figuring that out, I feel a little bit closer to her than I did the first time I saw her in my head, walking in high heels across an airport terminal. And I like her more. I’m curious about how you will all feel about her.
There’s another girl who I kind of kept in play almost as a place keeper. I needed a certain number of girls at that point in the book, and I picked her. I had no idea how assertive she was or how she would push herself to the forefront, demanding attention, not just from me, but from the other characters.
Sometimes, it’s easy to let secondary characters just be devices, a means to an end for our main character to go through whatever it is they need to meet their goal. I know of people who actually use specific, classic character types with their main characters, because they’re trying to make literary points. Not that that’s not okay, but I don’t get it. Are you hoping schools will kick out Shakespeare and use your books one day? Just tell me the effing story!
All I’m saying is I think you have to let everyone in the book matter. If they have a name, they have a purpose. And it may not be the purpose you intended them for. Your stick of celery might just be a slide. My advice is to go with it. Honesty in storytelling is always the best. Not necessarily convenient, but still the best. And if it takes your story in a direction you weren’t planning, that’s okay, too. That’s why we have a backspace key. You can always fix something you don’t love, but you never know how much you might love what’s happening if you don’t let your characters actually speak.