Here’s a blog I did that originally appeared on the Short Books and Scribes website:
I realise this makes me quite peculiar, but I am ever so slightly obsessed with the bits of films and novels that you don’t see. My favorite part of the sublime Family Guy re-imaginings of the Star Wars movies is the scene where two guards on the Death Star, perfectly recreated from the original film, are moaning about health and safety; in particular how they appear to be standing right beside a tunnel that spaceships come hurtling down.
“I said to him, forget the dental plan, forget the pension, I just want a railing! Then, get this, he said they worried we’d be leaning all day!”
“Leaning? Well, none of this will matter when we’re famous singers.”
Something in me just loves the idea of secondary characters, or as in this case extras, having a full life. I really want to know more about that duo’s musical career. Are they the Milli Vanilli of a place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away? One of the best bits of writing advice I ever heard is that everyone is the hero of his/her own story. It’s something I try and remember when creating every character in my books. Badly written characters are the ones whose only ambition in life appears to be informing your main character of a piece of information before walking off into the void from whence they came.
I could of course have started this article off with referencing Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead but Family Guy is more in my wheelhouse. Stoppard is a genius but I also greatly enjoy a good fart joke.
There is, however, a danger in making sure that all of your characters have complete lives outside of your work, and that is that they won’t go away when you’re done with them. Having now completed the first two books of my Dublin Trilogy and a prequel set eighteen years beforehand, I’ve got a long list of characters who are metaphorically waiting for me to return their call so they can bring me up-to-speed on what they’ve been up to.
An example of characters out-growing the confines of my story, is an order of nuns that appear in my latest book, Angels in the Moonlight, the prequel to the trilogy which is set in 1999. They popped into existence because the plot needed a woman in trouble to get out of America and start a new life in Dublin. This is where The Sisters of The Saint banged on my door to introduce themselves. As they explained, they are an order of rogue nuns who go where others fear to tread, to fight injustice and help those in need, regardless of the dangers. They are essentially the A-Team only, y’know, arse-kicking nuns. Frankly, they started out as a relatively light-hearted concept that would work well in juxtaposition with the darkness of this woman’s tortured past. Thing is though, I don’t know about you, but once the sisters had introduced themselves, I wanted to know more. In fact, I found myself increasingly distracted by the questions I had for them.
The only way to scratch this particular itch was to give them their own story, where I could delve into their backstory and answer at least some of the questions I had. The result was the novella Sisters Gonna Work It Out which I give away for free at the back of my book. The initial idea was to write a light-hearted romp, think Avengers Assemble meets every 1980s action movie, I thought it’d be a fun little distraction for me and hopefully the reader. Unfortunately, the more I wrote them, the more real they became. Suddenly, a fun concept had morphed into so much more than that, and now I’m left with yet more questions. I want to see The Sisters in action again. Suddenly, I find myself with three more mouths to feed. I’m beginning to release why the writers of Dynasty killed off most of the cast in the final episode.
I’m sure most authors probably know what I’ve only just realised – beware of taking your creations out for a casual Sunday drive of the imagination, if you’re not careful they might just hijack the car and take you hostage..