Monday, August 10, 2009

Uplifting Safety Nets

Last week I mentioned a character who has too much going for him to be a protagonist. Then Ellen came and talked to us. She also has too much going for her to be an affective protagonist. But these characters can serve as safety nets. I’ve used Ellen and her family that way in the past. I had a character who needed a house, so Ellen and her husband went out and bought a house, which they then allowed this character to stay in rent free. Without her successful restaurant, that wouldn’t have been possible. Some people will cry foul, suggesting that it would be better to leave the protagonist without a safety net, but that isn’t the way it works in real life. As much as I hate the thought of losing my job and not being able to pay my bills, I know that in time of need there are people I could go to for help, such as my church or my family.


Putting these safety net characters into a story changes it in a very specific way. They help raise a story out of the darkness. Think about the Cinderella story. If we were to tell the story without the fairy godmother, the story would be much darker. After being abandoned by her father with a wicked step-mother, Cinderella attends the ball and tries to gain the prince’s attention, but has no success because she is covered in ashes. Or what about Little Red Riding Hood without the woodman to open up the wolf and let grandma out?


Stories become dark when it appears that evil is allowed to go unhindered. Having a character who is able to keep evil in check, even though evil may cause our protagonist trouble, brightens the story. These characters change the plain of existence for the story. Unchecked, evil might be able to destroy the world and our protagonist is facing that battle. But we could throw in a character that will prevent the destruction of the world, but not necessarily the death of the protagonist. Just by doing that, we have a story that isn’t quite as dark, but the protagonist faces the same problems on a personal level. In many children’s stories, the authors remove death from the table all together, so the story is uplifting rather than dark. Safety net characters are one way to do this.

2 comments :

Lady Glamis said...

Great post, Timothy. You've correctly defined my definition of what I call the Safe Character. They are always present in children's and YA fiction. If they aren't, something's gone awry. And if you kill them off or they're very edgy, it makes the story edgy and dark, and more adult.

The Safe Character plays an important role, as you say, for helping the protagonist and the reader feel that safety net.

Timothy Fish said...

Yes, I can see what you mean.