Group as Character

I’ve been working on my decade-old manuscript, and it’s actually going well. I just have one problem you might be able to help me with.

Several of the characters are part of group, and the group will be disappearing en masse. The fact of the disappearance won’t be shocking because such things have already happened in the story, though it will sadden the two left behind and help set up the final act of the story.

I’ve been mostly developing the group roles and trying to present the group itself as a character rather than the individuals in the group because none of them individually advances the story. Consequently, I haven’t done much besides give the individuals brief profile sketches and conflicts within the group, but now I’m wondering if that’s enough.

Since the story is told from a single viewpoint — the main character — any development of other characters has to come from what that one character can observe. A couple of the characters hate the hero and would not tell him anything, so I haven’t given them much of a background, but should I find a way to tell their backstories? Is it necessary?

WRITERS, how fully do you develop your minor characters, especially characters who are going to be killed off?

READERS, how fully do you want to be invested in such characters? Would you feel more cheated if you had to invest time and emotion in such characters only to find out they weren’t pivotal to the story, or would you feel more cheated by not being able to invest emotion in them at all?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

8 Responses to “Group as Character”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Not an easy question. I’m in the process of killing off a minor character because his views aren’t appreciated by the movers and shakers. I tend to sketch in characters rather than writing thousands of words of description and backstory. Readers get to know the characters over time as the novel proceeds. If a character gets killed off, though, I want the readers to feel a loss. I’m not sure description is always the way to go. Sometimes, as people say, actions speak louder than words, so the readers know the character more by what s/he does than what s/he looks like or other attributes.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I did think of something — if I can’t find a way to tell more of the group characters’ backgrounds, then I can have the hero reflect afterward that he didn’t know anything about them. That way, it’s the character’s flaw/fault, and not the writer’s.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Do these characters’ backstories make any sort of difference in the story or the character’s growth?


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