The Case of the Missing Character

characters from Now, Voyager

In the previous article from The Fiction Editor, The Novel, and the Novelist, we were introduced to the interactions between characters as circuitry. McCormack continues the narrative here:

We've hinted at a possible fault of circuitry design: excess characters—minor folk with very low wattage, who in accumulation drain off current and can even cause small short circuits in the system. The subtlest circuit problem of all—and it's one that many editors go a lifetime and never identify—is the missing character, a needed magnetic lode at or near the core, without which the neighboring wires are dormant, lacking current or harmonic vibrations. It's difficult to spot, but it will never be spotted if the editor isn't aware of it as a possible ailment and has no approach to diagnosing it.

If the effect of the snowbound narrative (a snowbound mountain cabin inhabited by a pregnant woman approaching labor, and a man who is not the father) is totally compelling with just two characters, that is blessedly that. But if the effect is not all it might be, it would be immensely helpful if the editor were crafty enough to discern whether the optimal enrichment would come from adding new characters, or new twists to the old characters, or a new motivating element to the setting (e.g., the avalanche).

I find McCormack's notion of the missing character pretty stunning. Think back on some of the novels you have savored. Could the author have achieved the desired effect more easily by adding a new character, one that interacted usefully with the other charcters?

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