After my blog about the Chosen One yesterday, my friend Jim picked a nit. In the nicest possible way.
What about those stories with two equal main characters, say “Alias Smith and Jones”. Or multiple heroes, such as The Lord of the Rings? Do they break the principles of the Chosen One?
Au contraire. What I think we are seeing there is the Spice Girls effect.
AKA something for everyone.
The point about the Spice Girls was that they appealed to a wide audience. Pre teens would want to grow up to be like them. Teens would want to be friends with them. Older women would remember the time when their knees worked. And the men … you don’t need me to paint you a picture here, do you?
More than that, the Spice Girls were a Forrest Gumpesque box of chawclets, except this time you did know what you’re gonna get. There was the posh one that wasn’t posh. The ginger one that wasn’t ginger. The scary one that … actually was pretty scary, if I’m being honest.
Having a group of characters means that your reader can choose who to empathise with. It is still the Chosen One – the only difference is that the reader/ viewer is doing the choosing.
If you were a woman and you liked clothes, then Posh Spice might be your favourite. Like your women feisty? Then step right this way, we’ve got a nice bottle ginger one. Into sports? We’ve got one of those too. A non-white character? But, of course.
And for the closet paedophiles, here’s Baby Spice.
It works with same way with books. A book with multiple main characters gives the reader the choice of which one to empathise with.
Intriguingly, the character that you choose could reflect how you see yourself, and your stage in life.
Take the Lord of the Rings. A young reader might empathise with Frodo – small and defenceless in a story full of big people. When we reach teenage years, women readers might take a left turn for Arwen or Eowyn . Men might turn right for the energetic Aragorn or Legolas.
Add a few years and you start to appreciate the kingly maturity of Theoden, King of Rohann.
And enter the Saga demographic when you think that Gandalf is the main character…
Star Wars works on the same principle. Young kids watching the first film might empathise with Luke. Stuck at home doing the chores while there was a whole world of excitement out there. Adult male viewers might see themselves as the scruffy-looking Han Solo and wonder if Princess Leia kept that gold bikini for special occasions.
Add a few grey hairs and you might see yourself as Qui Gon Jinn “I have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career.”
Or Samuel L Jackson being indescribably cool with a purple light sabre. Um, I’m sorry, Sam, but you can’t have purple. The good guys are blue or green. The bad guys are red. That’s just how it works. There’s no need for language like that – leave my mother out of this. The fans won’t like it. Besides we’ve got a job lot of blue and green light sabres for the toys.
No, Sam, don’t go. Please. We need a token … ahem … older person. All right, all right, have your purple light sabre. Just don’t call it lilac. Please.
Having multiple main characters gives us the chance to have a classic choosing scene. We need to assemble a team of experts. For some ridiculously contrived plot device it will have to be a small team, say a Fellowship of nine, a magnificence of seven, a dirtiness of 12, a fantasticness of four. That gives us a chance to be introduced to each of the characters, to see their different strengths and weaknesses.
And to wonder exactly why we need one who is good with a knife. Ach, don’t worry, we will find something to do with that particular skill as the story unfolds.
What is really happening here is that we are giving the reader or viewer their own beauty contest. We are parading the characters in front of them in their evening gowns and asking them to pick one.
Naturally, some readers get very good at spotting the doomed character. That’s usually the complex character with a flawed past who is being given one last chance for redemption. You just know that they will get their redemption about five seconds before getting fatally shot.
This gives the hero a chance to gaze back wistfully at his grave and say “he would have wanted it this way”.
Meanwhile a ghostly voice can be heard wailing “No I bloody well do not!”.
In the final analysis, a book or a film with multiple main characters is a bit like a Swiss army knife. When you first see it, you fantasise about all those shiny blades. How cleverly they fold into each other! But when you start to use it, you only ever use one or two of the tools – probably the biggest knife blade and the tweezers. And you certainly don’t use the gadget for extracting boy scouts from horses’ hooves.
In the same way, readers tend to narrow down the number of characters that they follow in a book or a film. They pick their favourites. It’s no longer the writer’s book. It belongs to the readers now.
But, a final word of advice. If you are a bloke don’t ever admit to liking Baby Spice. It won’t end well.
It’s an exciting day in the Once household. To celebrate a new book coming out in a couple of weeks, we are making the first book free. For five days from 17th to 21st September 2014, Love, Death and Tea will be absolutely free.
Get it here:
It’s a first person comedy about the end of the world, the meaning of courage and the importance of a good cup of tea. It’s like this blog, but with a story. And a dragon.