Last week, I was in Montreal for a few days and saw my friends Keefer and Serpentskin. They told me they'd been playing a game of Axis & Allies where, instead of facing off one against the other, they decided to team-play every single nation and together make the best possible move for each side. The results were pretty awesome - my favourite move being the United Kingdom's liberation of German-occupied Karelia.
Now, as much as I'd like to geek-out and tell you about the game of A&A I played - by myself, playing every side, all the time, to the max - yesterday, I'm going to make a writing analogy, instead.
Most of the stories I write involve the direct facing-off of good guys and bad guys, or at the very least, two opposing forces. (I'm pretty sure this is basically inevitable in genre fiction, where it's not really possible to make an entire story out of banal familiarities [both the painful and comic kind] as it is in literary fiction.) In my world, these forces usually comprise a well-developed one - usually representing some force or virtue I be down with - and "The Enemy."
The Enemy is all too often nebulous and hackneyed, and I suspect this is because, all too often, I'm not playing their side. The same thing happens for side characters. I'm just watching how things roll out for these people, while the protagonist does his or her business - the literary equivalent of the boardgame: "Okay, Russia, you just build infantry and hang on until your Anglo allies are ready to invade Normandy."
Until yesterday, I didn't realize that Russia can dominate Eurasia if only she builds a buttload of armoured columns.
My point is that, when writing, every character is a legitimate character. Plots can be weakened by a subsidiary or antagonistic character doing something dumb for the sake of the advancement of the plot - a device ("the retarded villain") I use all the time.
But no longer! In the latest short I'm working on, both sides are fighting hard. I still know who'll "win out" in the end, but the direct and passionate conflict between the two forces will create numerous crises that need resolution. In point of fact, this means that better-played - er, written? - characters result in better-paced plots.