Every character in a novel is the hero/heroine of their own story. Ok, this makes sense to a certain point. But in a traditional epic fantasy, you might have a cast of thirty+ characters. How will you accomplish this?
There is absolutely no way to give them all in depth character arcs. If you try, you will end up with a 1000 page bloat monster who will devour your dreams and feed on your neuroses.
Who will then eat your fictional characters’ hopes and dreams in a forever repeating downward spiral.
Don’t do this. Remember, fiction is an illusion that writers weave, and readers buy into your deception. It’s a con. This stuff is super real through my writing, and I want to elicit xyz reaction from readers by arranging words this way or that way.
Writing is manipulation. But not in a bad way. Honest.
Ok, so what I’m talking about is simple. There seems to be a compulsive need to give every bit character some deep, complex story arc. Here’s the thing. You’re are going to ruin your novel and have a bad time when you realize you created a dead subplot for a character who really doesn’t need to be on the page anymore.
“My characters have lives of their own.” No. No, they don’t. I actually disagree with this ridiculous assertion that characters have minds/wills of their own. You control the characters. You embody them on the page in a single actor with twenty-five roles play.
As a writer, you are maintaining a cast of characters, acting out their roles, FEELING THEIR DRIVES, and bringing them alive on the page. But some of those characters have larger roles, more development, and more screentime.
Dynamic vs. static.
Flat vs. Round.
Those two concepts are all you need. Remember, a static character is not a bad thing. Just as a dynamic character is no guarantee for character complexity. I don’t need to know the bit character blacksmith’s brother is in debt, random expositioner. No, I don’t care about how this is super bad and relates to the village’s current situation. How is it relevant to the protagonist? The POV character? This is a matter of conservation of narrative and detail.
He could be a real swell guy, an upstanding partner to his husband Rudolph, but his story is not the one we are interested in. This is how it normally goes: POV character meets town blacksmith. Blacksmith is surly, but he makes the POV adventurer her spear. POV character pays the blacksmith. Blacksmith stares at the blade, recalling his days as an adventurer. The two then share a simple character interaction about youth and age, and we never see Billie the Smith again.
That’s fine. But some writers feel the need to bring Billie back even though the majority of the readers have long forgotten this bit character.
His story goes on as does the protagonist’s.
Unless you’re using an omniscient narrator, you don’t need to go into every single bit character’s life story. Characters exist to serve their roles in the story, not play house and oh, we’re going to follow Billy for the next three chapters with his fa….no. You are writing fantasy, not Billie the Smith’s slice of life domestic bliss.
It’s economic as well. The more you dwell into sidestories, the more you develop the world, but the more you can detract from the overarching story. This is why so many epic fantasies feel like they have filler or bloat.
Round vs flat. Dynamic vs static. Conservation vs. depth.