Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 20)

This entry is part 20 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Sidekicks and Narrators

This section really deserves to be expanded, but then I have yet to see a book that really tackles the idea of sidekicks head-on. Too often, we as authors tend to think too much of our main characters. We tell the tale from their perspective because we like that character, want to be that character (in some respects). However, there are so many examples of stories told from the perspective of a secondary character who watches the main character go through their trials. This could be the disembodied voice of a third person narrator, but I think it is more powerful when that voice comes from within the story.

For example, what would Sherlock Holmes be without Watson to tell his tale? Well, if Holmes told the story, we’d know a heckuva lot more about his process of deduction. That much is certain because a Holmes narrator would need to share his inner thoughts in order to gain our trust and sympathy. With Watson narrating, we can watch this nearly omnipotent detective from a distance and marvel at that which is unknowable. This quality, the unknowable, is something that only a sidekick or third person narrator can give to your work.

I’ve struggled with this one time again and invariably I come back to the idea that the story has to be told by someone other than my protagonist. I think this works especially well with those characters who are dark and brooding. The great Unknowable…

Depth and Differentiation of Character

This is another section Maass brushes over, which is sort of funny because he went on at length about details and depth. Then, when we get to the meat about characterization, he sort of trails off. Well, I think this is partly because characters, while very important, are not his strongest suit (at least in this book).

Try Writing a Damn Good Novel by James M. Frey if you’re hankering for real depth about characterization. I’m going to skip out here myself now and get on to the part where Maass really shines.

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