As writers and readers you are all aware of the main character (MC) in the books you read.
The MC is the one who gets all the best lines. The shining star in the firmament of the book; the one who takes centre stage and hogs the limelight; the one who gets the bouquet at the end of the performance; the one everybody talks about. But consider this; a novel is not a one-man show is it?
Most writers have a framework to work to. A plot that employs many devious stratagems to keep their readers enthralled. Within the confines of a novel (most novels) are many subsidiary characters and woe-betide the writer who fails to listen to the voices of their supporting cast. Let me give you an example …
In the first book of “The King’s Jew” on the evening of Wednesday, September 9th in the year 1238 (there’s a clue to the setting of the novel) we meet a minor character called Mathew. He’s a fifteen-year old soldier in the service of an influential lord.
Mathew enters stage left (to use a theatrical term) in Chapter Three; page 9 of the paperback version. His opening lines (as written by the Director – me) are as follows … “He’s killed the lord’s pig, Robert. He’ll have our guts for this. I said the rope wasn’t strong enough!”
Now, dear reader, I won’t bore you with the gory details of this unassuming opening remark but, suffice to say, I envisaged Mathew as a walk on / walk off character. Sort of a trainee actor, a youngster who fulfilled his part, read his lines, got paid and went back to wherever he came from. Simple eh?
Imagine my surprise when in the timescale of the novel, fourteen years later in Chapter Twenty-two on Tuesday, April 9th 1252 on page 101 Mathew returns. WTF! Who invited him? He certainly wasn’t in my mind!
Let me explain – this part of the story required a letter to be delivered to our then thirteen-year old MC urging him to undertake a journey. A group of men had been sent to fetch him and the leader of this gang of roughnecks turned out to be the now twenty-nine year old Mathew! He appeared unbidden in my train of thought and there was no way I could refuse him this second chance of fame. It was as if he was taking part in an impromptu audition.
During Mathew’s journey with my then young MC I learned a lot about Mathew. In a world where the Christian religion is fundamental to everyone’s life and the reality of Hell was as real to thirteenth century man as the fact that birds fly and ducks swim, Mathew stood apart.
He mocks the Cistercians at Beaulieu Abbey (I didn’t know that until he refused to take his gloves off when offered a bowl of water to ‘purify’ him before entering the Abbey) He admonishes the brother by saying; “You stay here, little brother and pray for our immortal souls, for mine is in sore need of intercession. Pray loudly now for Heaven is far away for one such as me.”
The thing is, although I wrote those words it was Mathew who spoke them. He spoke them to me, the writer. Unbidden, this subsidiary character was carving out a roll for himself. Indeed, Mathew was writing his own unique script and there was nothing I could do to stop him!
Believe me I tried to limit Mathew’s effect on my MC. Sounds as if I’m looking for a get-out clause doesn’t it? Really, I tried but an interesting subsidiary character sometimes will never be silenced and as my novel continued I realised the effect he was having on my MC.
Talking of MC’s – My main character is a thirteenth-century person named Cristian Gilleson. “The King’s Jew quartet revolves around him and his ‘friend’ the future King of England, Edward the First. Other main characters are real people; the Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare; Edward’s father King Henry III, Simon de Montfort the rebel leader of the Second Baron’s War and many more. So how did a rough tough, gruff, violent, blasphemous man such as Mathew elbow his way into the script?
We next meet Mathew in Bordeaux in Chapter forty-one, page 235, on Tuesday, June 22nd, 1255 (notice Mathew disappeared for three years yet here he is again!) I recall when writing that particular chapter that I was shocked when he turned up again but Mathew was by now a man with a mission – a mission to take care of and serve our MC, Cristian Gilleson. Is there no stopping this rebellious character I thought?
And sure enough there was no way to rein this character in. By his actions he cemented the bond between himself and our then sixteen-year old Cristian and, by his actions and examples began to shape our hero’s life and attitude.
There is an old saying that goes as follows “Many are called but few are chosen.”
Bloody hell! I just checked the source of those words and it seems that Mathew is looking over my shoulder and manipulating this humble novelist as we speak! The above ‘saying’ is taken from the Bible, Mathew 22:14. My subsidiary character now has me quoting his namesake!
But let’s return to the phrase “Many are called but few are chosen”. In the context of this article I urge you writers out there to take heed of it. In essence just think of the person doing the ‘calling’ as one of your minor characters. He or she is calling out to you and begging you to bring them deeper into your novel. Such vociferous subsidiary characters need to be listened to; need to be ‘chosen’. I urge you to listen to their plaintive calls and allow them into your work for it will be all the better for it.
So what happened to Mathew I hear you ask? Did he take centre stage for a while and then disappear back to the chorus line? The answer is simple and can be found in books two, three and four of “The King’s Jew” series.
I will however tell you that Mathew has a greater role to play in the subsequent books. By his actions in book one he cajoled me, conned me, and threatened me in no uncertain manner to let him stay in the novel. Mathew is not the sort of man you’d like for an enemy yet he is loyal to those who match up to his uncertain moral standards. I like Mathew, he is my friend and I would drink with him in a crowded bar in the full and certain knowledge that it would be a night to remember.
In summation I beg you writers out there to listen to the voices in your head when writing, keep your options open and an eye out for new up and coming players.
As for you readers out there you may never know the extent of the effect that a subsidiary character has had on the MC. It takes two to tango and it is the sum total of ALL the players that lead to a successful production.
PS – Mathew was born in 1233 and died in ….? That is one aspect of the books that I have not yet finalised. I have been dreading writing Mathew out of the series for such a long time which I think may be the reason that I’m delaying publishing the final book in the series. Don’t ask me to kill off my friend, let him live a while longer in my mind. I can tell you this though … it will be a death the likes that few have ever seen and will echo down the ages for time evermore.
Mathew wrote those last 21 words! He’s at it again, bless him!
BIO of Darius Stransky
Darius Stransky spends far too much time in the thirteenth century. Prior to that he has been a weekly columnist, broadcaster, journalist, teacher, un-civil servant and many things in-between. Part English Gypsy, part Irish he remains mixed up and loves every minute of his life. He lives in Cheshire, England. The main thing about Darius is that he has lots of time for readers and writers. If you need any help just give him a SHOUT. Oh and he likes real beer and real people – well most people. Cats, yeah he likes cats because they are quiet and solitary. Bit like Darius really!
Link to The King’s Jew Book One
Link to The King’s Jew Book Two
You can find him on Facebook as Darius Stransky