I love complex characters. I love reading about them in books, watching them on TV and film, playing them in videogames, and writing them. Usually, the main hero of every story is my least favorite character. Luke Skywalker? More like Luke Borewalker, amiright? Usually, just about everyone else in a story has more depth and complexity than the main hero. Well defined villains, in particular, usually draw my interest. What drives someone down dark paths, what lurks behind their decisions and actions? I find it all fascinating and it works to draw me in and hold my interest.
So as you can imagine, when I write, I want to bring complexity to every character. I want them to have a whole world of motivations, feelings, experiences, and plans. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. If you want your characters to feel alive and believable, they need to have a history. But over the course of a novel, you can’t always shove in the history of every character. That can leave some characters feeling less developed than others. For Steve and me, this meant getting creative with sprinkling history in where we could, and we’re also working on short fiction projects that will further build the backstory of some of our supporting characters.
Instead of being bothered by the less developed characters, I’ve found something interesting happening as I do my edit of our debut novel, Brother Dust: The Resurgence. My fear was that these simpler characters would detract from the complexity of those around them. However, it seems that something different is happening. Our few lesser developed characters work as mirrors that help reflect and enhance the complexities in our main characters. It allows us to add in differing viewpoints that may be coming from less intelligent or nuanced characters. Instead of being a detriment, that proved to be beneficial.
This realization has changed how I think about supporting characters a little bit. In the past, if I couldn’t find a way to make someone ultra complex and deep, I’d just pull them out of my story. But not everyone is ultra complex and deep. Some people have their basic story and their basic life and they’re a basic person and that’s okay. Some of the greatest people in the world are basic people.
Maybe I’m a dummy and all the other creators in the world knew this long before I did, but if not, then I want to encourage you to experiment with some simple characters. I don’t recommend making your main character simple, because again, Luke Skywalker, but look at those surrounding Luke. R2D2, C-3P0, and Chewbacca are all pretty simple characters that do a great job of enhancing the complexities of those around them.