Wednesday, August 8, 2012

If You Have a Watcher, You'd Better Have a Reason

Watchers – characters who work from the sidelines, influencing other characters to take action. Dr. Who is one example of a character like this. Though he is also the main character, his actions are such that he watches out for the people of Earth and makes an appearance when they need him. He always has people with him who he encourages to take action, putting them in danger, when he himself really has nothing to fear.

That’s one of the interesting things about watchers. They usually have more knowledge of the situation than anyone else and yet they seldom reveal what they know. If we include a watcher in our own writing, we’d better have a reason why the character doesn’t reveal what he knows. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t want to worry people. If you knew that the world was about to explode, would you create panic by telling them or let them go on their merry way? What’s the point of making their last few minutes miserable? Or maybe the character is the type who is trying to teach those he watches. Suppose the character is from a distant planet and he crash-landed here on Earth. He fears what would happen if he reveals what he is, but he has a desire to educate the people of Earth.

I’m sure there are many different reasons a watcher would not reveal all he knows, but to not have a reason could be disastrous. I’ve always wondered about why Cinderella had to leave the ball at midnight, for example. The story doesn’t tell us why the fairy’s magic didn’t work past that point. So we begin to think that it is silly that it didn’t. The thing that saves that story is that it makes for a better story to have the prince go out looking for her. It makes us forgiving of the problem.

But most of us aren’t writing the next Cinderella. Rather than relying on the rest of the story to cause the reader to overlook the problem, it is better if we develop a reason for the watcher not to reveal all or use all his power.