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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trope-tastic Thursday: Audience Surrogate

Trope: Audience Surrogate (#3)

Description: In this type of Audience Surrogate, the character is crafted so audience members can easily picture themselves in his/her place. Obviously, great writing (or film-making, or theater) is supposed to make us feel like we're right there amidst the action, but this is a bit stronger than that. Sometimes it's just a natural effect of how the character is presented in relation to the other characters and the plot, while other times it's an intentional goal of the writer. The Audience Surrogate can be tied into other tropes, such as the "Everyman" or the "Straightman" (aka "one sane person in a room full of crazies").

Examples: Bella from Twilight (confirmed by Stephenie Meyer), Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Jim from The Office

Pros: As stated above, when done well, this is a great way to pull your readers into the story and make them feel like they're really there. It can be a fun way of developing the supporting cast of characters through the eyes of the Audience Surrogate. Most people read fiction as a form of escape - isn't it fun to pretend we're in the middle of all this super-exciting drama?

Cons: If you're making a main character a "blank slate" in the hopes that your audience will self-insert, you run the risk of creating a bland character they might not relate to. As with any point of view issue, there are pros and cons; one potential con here is the limitations of seeing the world through the eyes of the Audience Surrogate. Also, what happens if you're imagining yourself in a character's shoes and he/she reacts to something in a way you don't expect, or disagree with? Does that disconnect remove the label of "Audience Surrogate"? (Now my head's spinning....)

Would/Did I Use It?: I thought about doing this in Disintegration, making Callum a character who could really be anybody. Ultimately, I decided not to focus on that while writing, though I suppose it could be argued that his POV pretty much aligns with anyone who might find themselves in similar situations. This could be a big "mileage varies" trope.


  1. I think J.K. Rowling did a great job with this in the world of Harry Potter.

    I love this kind of thing when it's not a blank slate type of character. I just find that dull. I don't quite know how to do this intentionally, but that's okay. I tend to ruin stuff when I focus too much on the mechanics. Lol!

    But I would like my stories have characters that people can relate to enough that they want to experience the story alongside them. That is, after all, my favoritest part of reading. :)

    1. I think that's the reason I didn't wind up going that route - I don't know where the middle ground is between "blank slate" and "too much detail for the reader to insert him/herself". Props to those who can do this effectively!

  2. I kind of think that Fish Out of Water stories usually have an audience surrogate character. I think if I tried to write one, though, it would just come out as exposition.

    1. I don't know how good I'd be at it either! Ah well, just another technique to file in the "someday" pile....