Some characters are courageous and we as readers want to follow them along on their journey. Other times they’re smart and we admire their wit and tactical prowess. Other times they’re completely absent from the present narrative but still have an effect on other characters. This can fill us, the reader, with a sense of longing, suspense or maybe even fear.
Maybe like Lily from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a character in your current project has lost someone important that they never had the chance to meet. Not only does Lily feel guilt when thinking about her mother, Deborah, due to the hand she had in her death, she spends a portion of the novel lamenting the things she wasn’t able to do because she didn’t have her mother. These thoughts have been with Lily for quite some time but they come to a head as she begins to enter adulthood. This, along with the scene of her cuddling her mother’s memorabilia in the field helps the reader understand just how deep Lily’s longing for her mother runs.
On the opposite end, Scott in David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, is faced with someone who has yet to come into being. His constant letters and references to his future sibling showcase his nervousness and actually betray his excitement at the prospect of becoming an older brother. As much as Scott may gripe about the changes his future brother caused, he shares his mistakes, fears, heartbreaks, and victories with Sean despite the workload and chaos that comes with his freshman year of high school.
In both of these instances, a person who isn’t there in the present is still a character, revealed through the thoughts and actions of other characters. Debora is made more real through her connection with Lily, T. Ray, May and August, just as Sean is made more real through the actions Scott and his family take to prepare for him. When developing characters, try to think of their relationships with those yet unseen. Our courageous hero is on a quest to defeat the big bad? You can ratchet up suspense through the dialogue and actions of the people your hero meet.
If you’re stuck, I would encourage you to check out these books and see in what ways the authors choose to characterize those who have already passed or those who have yet to come into being. Whether you decide that you want to follow the same plan as either one of these books, create your own, or realize that past/future characters are unimportant, I hope you have a great time writing.
Until next time,