I’m drafting a book tentatively called The Trickster. Its central character is Dilly, who appears as a secondary character in The Wind Reader. There, she’s nearly always accompanied by her dog, Tuc.
I can’t remember why I originally gave Dilly a dog. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. And Tuc turned out to be useful to the three street kids who mobbed up together in that book. He guarded them. He hunted the rats in the abandoned building in which they were squatters.
Remember Tuc is there!
As long as Dilly was a secondary character, Tuc was easy to manage. But in the current draft, Dilly is one of two alternating point of view characters. So she’s on stage much more of the time. That means I always have to remember Tuc is there, and remind the reader of that fact too. I have to keep writing things like “Tuc scratched his ear” or “Tuc growled at the man.” At one point, I took to writing “Tuc” at the top of each page so I wouldn’t forget him. It drove me crazy.
Eventually, out of desperation, I decided I’d better do something with Tuc to justify his appearance and my struggle. Tuc was more or less a guard dog, but what could I do with that? I thought about it for a while and remembered the old joke about the dyslexic atheist who didn’t believe in dog. This book has what the characters call “small gods.” Maybe Tuc could secretly be one. I also thought about auxiliary divinities like guardian angels. And bingo, I decided Tuc was a Guardian Dog, a cross between a guard dog and a guardian angel.
Giving characters secrets
I kept that role a secret from the reader until near the end of the book, so if you wind up reading The Trickster, you have to forget you know. Still, it gave me room to play a bit with the things Tuc could do. And I enjoyed working with him instead of groaning over having to remember him.
By the way, I get much the same boost to my own enjoyment if I give secrets to various characters, even if I never reveal them in the book. I might know that two members of the household guard are sweethearts, for instance. It makes the book feel richer to me, and probably influences the way I write scenes these characters are in.
Other things to remember
In this case, I had to remember a character, but writers often have to remember things that seem minor. Maybe a character was punched in the face. That character is going to have a bruise for pages to come. Maybe they were hungry and dragged away from a meal. They’re going to want to eat the next time they get a chance.
If remembering something gets too onerous, try making more of it, not less. It could turn out to be fun.
Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leaves 2016) by Dorothy A. Winsor is available in e-book and paperback. E-book only $3.99.
When the daughter of a would-be rebel and the son of the king wind up living in the same household, her secrets are threatened by his need for revenge. Murder, magic, and underground tomb mazes.