Side Characters are People Too

Halfway through the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a single sentence struck me so powerful, I had to flesh out my thoughts about it here. **Slight Spoilers ahead** but they won’t ruin the book/movie for you.

Let me set the scene for you…Gone_Girl

The wife of the main character, Nick, has been missing for five days. Foul play is expected but no hard leads have been found. The lead detectives on the case sit Nick down to ask him a few more questions. The “friendly” interrogation starts with the detectives asking Nick if he would like a lawyer. His internal dialogue explains why he denies the request. “I knew from my TV shows, my movies, that only guilty guys lawyered up. Real, grieving, worried, innocent husbands did not.” 

Although the detectives do not accuse Nick of anything, all the questions point towards him being the main suspect. His lack of alibi, raising his wife’s life insurance policy, discussing their troubled marriage.

The last two sentences of the chapter are as follows:

“Maybe its time I got a lawyer,” Nick said.
The cops exchanged another look, as if they’d settled a bet.

Why that last sentence struck me…

It probably doesn’t hit you as hard as it hit me, but for the entire day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that sentence. Why? Because…

1. It makes the cops seem like very real people, not just the surface characters we see investigating the case.

Although the cops were by no means “flat” characters, this sentence reveals that they are much more than place holders. It alerts the reader that the cops are having secret conversations behind the scenes as well as withholding information.

2. First person point of view can be very limited and deceiving. 

Because the novel is written in first person, the only time we see the cops is when they are talking to Nick. This sentence reminds readers that there is a full investigation going on but we only see a small part of, the part that Nick sees. This scene reveals a lot of information that the cops were previously keeping from Nick (which means the readers didn’t know about it either). There is a whole world of conversations, investigations, and information outside of what our narrator knows/shares.

3. It reminded me that even side characters have a full story. 

This fact got me thinking the most. I love characters and I always strive to have real, full characters in my own writing but this sentence was jolting because it revealed a huge flaw in my own writing. Every character, no matter how small their part, has a full story and a round personality. To ignore those stories is to ignore the truth. I don’t want my main characters talking to generic, faceless people. I want them to be surprised by what other characters tell them and they should be. Every person has experienced different things and has a different way of looking at the world and their dialogue/action should reflect their individual self. Knowing the unique aspects of side characters begins by realizing they have their own story to tell.

Writing Prompt: Obviously this girl kneeling has a story, but what about that guy in the background? What’s his story? 

man in background

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About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on January 7, 2015, in Literature, Writing Prompts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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