“Here’s to peace at last.”
Stan grinned and accepted the cigar. “Thanks, Mac. So, how’s it feel to be two days from retirement?”
“Heh. Why d’ya think I sprang for the good cigars? Man, life couldn’t be better.” Mac leaned back and rested his heels on the edge of the consol. His boot blocked the glow of the perimeter warning light as it began to flash.
Stan drew in a lungful of smoke, savoring the flavor. “Gerda looking forward to having you home more?”
“Sure. After risking life and limb out here on the Edge for the past five years, I’m ready for some domesticity. Let me tell ya, Stan. There were days I didn’t think we’d make it…”
Ok, readers, you tell me. What’s going to happen next?
Mac’s retiring, celebrating because they’ve made it this far, confiding in a friend, and a warning light’s going off…
He’s not going to make it.
Like a red-shirted ensign on Captain Kirk’s away team, some characters are so obviously headed for disaster that it’s best not to get attached.
Here are a few common ‘expendables,’ just off the top of my head.
The Mentor. The soon-to be hero of the piece is young and inexperienced. He or she needs guidance. Enter the wise old mentor, who leads, guides, becomes a father figure…and then dies. The hero/heroine is galvanized to become who they were meant to be!!!
The Relationship. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a best friend, or a pet, if your hard-boiled ex-super- tough-character has settled down for a peaceful life at the beginning of a story, you know it’s not going to last, don’t you? Someone the character loves will be sacrificed on the altar of storyline so that he/she is galvanized to take up the fight once more.
The Innocent. How can you tell baddies are really bad? When they kill innocent bystanders who are no threat to them, naturally. (What do you mean it’s not very subtle?) Once that kitten ranch is gone, ooooh, we’re all gonna be rooting for the hero to take that kitten killer DOWN.
“I’m Retiring Next Week!” Enough said. He will not be collecting his pension. Sub categories of this include “Getting married tomorrow,” or “Just had a baby.”
Cannon Fodder. If you’ve watched Star Trek, you probably understand what I meant with my reference to “red-shirted ensigns.” The poor guys may as well have painted bull’s eyes on those polyester suits. In the realm of sci-fi, the only worse person to be is a storm trooper. (Sure, the armor looks good, but fuzzy mini-teddy bears can render it useless with sticks! Painful, and embarrassing.) In any story where a core team of main characters takes guards for protection, or travels in a caravan, or interacts with any group that’s not essential to the plot, look out.
This topic has been on my mind because I just caught myself using one of these types of characters.
I’ve had to stop and take a long look at my story arc.
Every story won’t be the most original and surprising piece of literature ever written- it’s just not possible. (How many books and shows have essentially repeated the same plot?) Still, if my story’s going to include a character’s death, I want it to count. I want it to increase the tension, raise the stakes, make readers care more.
In short, I caught myself in some lazy writing, and that just won’t do. My new goal for this draft is to make my paper people resemble flesh and blood more than cardboard cut-outs just waiting to be knocked down.
Maybe LeRoy (that’s my nice guy/best friend/cannon fodder’s name. Poor, poor LeRoy) needs to live. My, that would throw my plot for a loop! Or maybe he’ll still fall, but in a different way, or in a different time.
Maybe I just need to spend more time on his character so that he is more than a puppet, waiting on stage for his dramatic exit.
Can you add any other character types I’ve missed above- ones you always suspect aren’t going to make it to the story’s end?
Thanks for visiting!