Have you ever watched a play, tv show, or movie where background characters did nothing but stand around and watch? It gets old and boring quick. The same is true for background characters in your writing.
How your characters react in everyday situations is as important to how they respond in the “big scenes”. Without secondary responses, the pages of a book take on the same droll sense that watching someone on stage just standing there has. Boring.
We would like your thoughts and advice on how to up the background, yet still keep it in the back. Because even though it’s necessary, it still must not over power the importance of the scene it is in.
Okay, Anica had such a great comment, that I decided to add it to this post.
I think a lot of it is about knowing how your point of view character would look at the background characters and their activities. That’s the level of detail they should get.
Sometimes scenes seem to stop while the protagonist describes everything that other characters are doing – as you say, the background overpowers the scene. Mostly, I think the issue is that showing activities (e.g. what some character in the background is doing) implies (a) the passage of time, and, (b) that your protagonist spends the aforementioned time being aware of these activities, which means s/he’s paying enough attention to describe them at the level at which they’re described.
This can be especially problematic in big fight scenes. Often the author has introduced a bunch of characters over the course of a book or even a series, and s/he then wants to show the reader what all of them are up to during the big fight, but reading paragraphs on what other people are doing during an action sequence makes me think, “What about our protagonist? Is she just standing there watching?” (If so, there had better be a good reason, because that isn’t a very active or interesting course for her to take.)
Background details can be included; they just have to make sense in the context of what the POV character is doing at the time. In the fight scene example, maybe she could be fighting her way across the room, trying to ask each of her friends an important question, which would mean she would see what each of them is doing.
Thanks, Anica for your thoughts on this subject, I agree completely!