One of the most important connections to establish in your novel is between the story and the reader. Many writers do this by creating a relatable, impactful story. Everyone can understand a romance or a day-to-day problem, which makes it so easy for a reader to empathize with the characters and their position in the novel. This connection is strained when you have an unrealistic world. That’s when guides come in!
The best connection a writer can create is between the protagonist and the reader. If the reader enjoys reading the protagonist, a lot of the story becomes smooth sailing. The reader can sympathize with the actions of the protagonist and they have greater immersion. Yet, that is a difficult connection to establish when you have a unique character.
Only some readers will form this connection. I believe this is why so many authors create simple characters with mild personalities; personalities that are easy to agree with and difficult to disagree with. The character will be less impactful, but you stand a greater chance of gaining reader interest.
That is why the ‘guide’ character is so important. A character that is learning with the reader, a character that asks questions, forms opinions, and makes decisions based on the answers they receive. In essence, they are characters that take the bullet in terms of having exposition dumped on them for the reader’s sake.
Sometimes the guide and the protagonist are the same person, but more often than not it is another character.
I believe that using a guide character in a novel is not only a great way to have the reader’s questions answered, but it is fundamentally necessary when explaining a fictional world space to the reader.
A high fantasy world, a futuristic science fiction one, or any other type of abnormal world will need a character that makes sense of the world for the reader’s sake. It is easier for a writer to keep track of all the elements in their world as they understand what is important to the story and what are superficial details that only add to the immersion.
Yet, by creating a guide character, the writer can slyly explain to the reader through this curious character what is so important in the world and what matters in the plot. Simply put, the character acts as a vessel for the reader to place themselves in whenever the story’s complexity ranks up a level.
Of course, this isn’t the only method a writer can use.
Some writers prefer to use simple narration in their novels, explaining the curious objects, machines, and concepts to the reader as the story goes on. Yet, that conveys a different feeling than novels where questions are asked about the world space, where characters are learning as they go.
When every character understands what is going on, the reader is the only one that needs to catch up, and sometimes the story gets away from them. Having a character that slows things down so they can get a grip on what has happened can change this feeling. The world seems more open and wondrous, it’s easier to understand.
Some writers use a combination of the two, but that depends on the novel. Some concepts are too simple to have a character give any attention, so that is explained through narration. It’s only the crucial plot points that have a guide character asking questions about important elements in the story.
I have always enjoyed writing guide characters. It comes down to me to explain the story in the words of another character and have another character respond with the appropriate personality. The conversations can easily come off as natural and it's another excuse to create some character development.
Yet, I am also aware that such a character can turn into annoyance. There are certainly stories out there where it feels like the writer is holding the reader’s hand and depending on the intensity of the story and scene, it can destroy the atmosphere.
Nobody wants to explore a wonderful new place and have every poignant moment broken with exposition.
With that said, if a writer can keep the guide character from breaking the story with exposition dumps and make them an important part of the story, this is a writing method I find very effective. It’s one that I try to play with to make it more interesting to the reader. Sometimes the guide characters are different in certain scenes, sometimes these moments can turn into impactful scenes where a character voices their opinion or is moved by the answer they receive.
But, that’s just my thought on the topic. I would like to hear from you! Do you believe guide characters are a useful story-telling tool, or do you believe there is a better method for presenting new elements in a fictional world? Let me know in the comments below!
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!