I have a couple of questions for you. No fair looking up the answers. Best guess.
Mercutio appears in how many scenes in Romeo and Juliet?
The Trickster appears in how many episodes of Supernatural?
The answers might surprise you. And, we’ll get to them, but for now–do you know these characters? Do you remember them if you do? Why?
What is it that makes them so memorable, despite their relatively short “screen time?” No matter which answer you chose above, compared to the whole, they are minor characters.
Look at the fuss that fans put up when Tom Bombadil was left out of The Lord of the Rings movies. Basically, he appears in one short section of The Fellowship of the Ring, and then is mentioned a couple of times in the rest of the trilogy, as well as appearing in some of Tolkien’s poetry. He is hardly a major character, but he captures the reader’s imagination and holds it.
There are certain aspects that all these characters have in common.
1. They use humor to interact with other characters.
2. They have hidden nobility behind the foolish aspect.
3. They provide the hero(s) with some information/inspiration/item that is essential to completing their quest.
When writing The Luckless Prince, I tried to keep these aspects in mind when writing the character of Deodar. A prince in his own right, though not claiming the title to his new friends, he jokes with the main characters, and yet teaches Roland the Elven language and reminds Stefan of his heritage.
There is one final aspect that all these characters, including Deodar, share:
4. They are removed from the action before the end of the story–and I have a theory as to why.
Think about Mercutio, for example. He is one of the most memorable characters in Romeo and Juliet. Personally, I would put him at third behind the lovers. If Mercutio were not killed at the moment in which he falls, he would be delivering wisecracks at their funeral. Instead, by dying when he does, he tips Romeo’s hand over to revenge and sets in motion the rest of the tragedy.
If Tom Bombadil had been a member of the Fellowship, or given the ring to take care of, Gandalf feared he would simply lose it because it wasn’t important. Instead, he provides aid and solace when the hobbits most need it and sends them on their way while remaining in his beloved valley with Goldberry.
The Trickster gives Sam and Dean the secret of the Horsemen’s rings, providing the clue to ending the Apocalypse. (Trying very hard not to be too spoilery–all Speculative Fiction fans should find a way to watch Supernatural if you haven’t.) But if he had been with them at the end, it would have changed the balance of the encounter.
When writing your own fiction, keep in mind the importance of the Trickster character trope–and remember, not all tricks are bad. It can add depth and interest to your book.
For more on this and other character tropes, see this great entry on Jack Frey’s blog and the detailed list on TV Tropes. Of course, these aren’t comprehensive lists, but they will give you some good ideas about where to start.
What are your favorite examples of Tricksters? Do you like them or find them trite? What other tropes are you fond of? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
And, by the way, the answer to both questions above is 4.