June 3, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
Today, let’s talk about something I wish I’d better understood when I first started writing.
If you’ve done any amount of digging for writing advice, you’ve probably come across this commandment at least once: “Show, don’t tell.”
Even without further explanation, I think most writers grasp the core of this concept. I like to think of it as “Write a story, not a documentary.” Still, understanding the concept and actually putting it into play in our writing are two very different things.
Now, there are all kinds of strategies out there about how to show and not tell, but I want to focus on a specific one:
The Window Character
You know the old saying “You can tell a lot about a person by the friends they keep?” Well, the window character is the literary application of this principle. Your window characters show your readers things about your main character’s personality, behavior, thoughts, and development.
Think about it, would you rather hear an MC internally wailing about the conflicts she has to deal with or would you rather hear her discussing them with her best friend? Especially when that best friend gives her hell for navel-gazing and tells her to get some damn perspective?
In other words, developing our secondary characters is vital and not just to keep them from being flat and boring. Every character in a novel is a potential window into the MC. Who your MC chooses to hang out with and who they dislike shows us something about their personality. What they talk about and how they interact shows us more about the MC. Even an MC not having a best friend would tell us something about that character.
Using the Window Character
Most of the really great books I’ve read make good use of the Window Character by making this sidekick of the MC strategically different from the MC. Look at your MC’s dominant personality traits and assign the opposite to the window character. For example, if your MC is impulsive, your window character is cautious and deliberate. A weakness of the MC might be the WC’s strength.
The benefit here is giving your MC a different perspective. Your characters will have to discuss things because they disagree on them which gives you dialogue that shows what’s going on rather than just telling the reader.
I also found an article that you may find helpful: 5 Types of Friends Everyone Should Have. While the author of this article probably didn’t have writers in mind, these are the possible types of people your MC may have in their life who will give you the opportunity to show things about your MC rather than telling.
- Developing Characters Part One: Getting to know you (12novels.com)
- How to Write a 3 Dimensional Character (dreammirrors.org)
- Do you know your own GMC? Not your characters, yours as a writer? (angelaquarles.com)
- Becoming a Storyteller: The First 50 Pages, or, Gimme Some Space, Short Story! (dlfwriting.com)