Isn’t if fun when something you never intended to do becomes something wonderful? Like that old commercial where the guy eating a chocolate bar bumps into the guy eating peanut butter and they exchange those infamous words, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter. You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” Then the narrator says, “Two great tastes that taste great together.”
The happy accident that became a sensation.
It’s a phenomenon that takes place often. And one of my favorite examples of it is the Break-Out Character.
Break-out characters are never created on purpose. They are born from characters written into the story for a specific purpose that are not meant to stand out but somehow take on a life of their own. They come in the forms of next door neighbors, co-workers, sidekicks, barista at your main character’s favorite coffee shop and such. They usually have very small pieces of dialogue allotted them and are given quirky attributes. Yet somehow they become some of our favorite characters and many times are more favored by the audience than your main characters.
Lately, I have noticed that every time I sit to work on the Middle Grade/ YA novel I am currently working on, I look for excuses to involve certain characters who I never intended to be a big part of my plot.
I love writing about them. Why? Because the fact that they are involved with my main characters but not as emotionally invested in the outcome of my plot as my protagonist and antagonist, they are free to focus on non-critical plot issues and entertain me in a way other characters can’t.
Break-out characters are a wonderful tool that can be used to give your readers a fresh breath or emotional break from your plot when it gets too intense. They are a way to add a spot of humor to or momentarily shift your reader’s focus from the plot.
Break-out characters often bring a catch phrase to your dialogue or a memorable physical action your readers begin to anticipate. Before you know it they pilfer away bigger and bigger chunks of plot. They are the characters your readers quote back to you.
In the world of television, they are the characters that wind up spinning off into their own series, or have the most merchandise marketed to them. Think George Jefferson, Cosmo Kramer, Dr. Frasier Crane, Robert Barone.
Now that some have developed for me within my novel, I use them to help me get unstuck when things slow down. I ask myself, “Hmm I wonder what so and so is up to?” Suddenly I find myself smiling and laughing and writing up a storm.
Who is waiting to break out of your plot?