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Reading Challenge: Once It Happens, There’s No Going Back

A funny thing happened after the last blog. I read the next prompt for the DIY MFA WriterIgniter Reading Challenge and realized I had already accidentally done it. It just so happened the next prompt was about the “Inciting Incident” of the book. Cheers to unexpected surprises!

What’s an inciting incident? It’s the point in the story where an outside influence makes the protagonist decide something—it’s where they leave their old life behind.

In The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson, our main character Jake Baker’s external force puts him in a position where he has to make a choice. This is a one-way door, there’s no going back once this choice is made. After going along with the “Funeral Home Break-in,” Uncle Calvin asks if they should make these paranormal investigations a regular thing. Despite not wanting to say yes, he does anyway. And his path forward is forever changed.

What influences Jake’s decision? The supporting cast of characters.

Typically, there are five main archetypes of supporting characters around the protagonist. The Best Friend/Side Kick, Love Interest, Mentor, The Fool, and the Villain. Not every story has all of these characters and sometimes they have more.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club continues to be an intriguing book to analyze. Three of the archetypes are easier to label, the other two? Well . . . it’s complicated.

Best Friend/Side Kick – These characters usually have traits that the protagonist does not have. Their personalities supplement what the main character lacks. Think of Ron and Hermione, he’s the comic relief and she’s the brains of the group, while Harry is brave and rash.

For The Saturday Night Ghost Club, the new kid in town, Billy Yellowbird, is Jake’s friend. Considering what a loner Jake is, the term friend is used loosely here. The reader knows Billy’s different because Jake thinks so:

“Billy, walking in front of me with fluid grace. When we came to a tree that had blown over in a storm, he hurdled it effortlessly. I crawled underneath and came up with cockleburs stuck to my shirt, which Billy picked off.”

This is just one example that Jake uses to compare how much better at existing Billy is compared to him. Thinner, graceful, better looking, adventurous, and so on, while Jake is the opposite, at least, according to himself he’s nothing like Billy.

Love Interest – Dove Yellowbird, Billy’s older sister is Jake’s crush. I mean, the below says it all:

“How could I, a mere mortal, like Dove Yellowbird? Did mortal men like the goddess who lurked in the caldera of their island volcanoes? No, they worshipped those goddesses.”

Mentor – Uncle Calvin is without question, the mentor in Jake’s life. Here’s the secret about mentors—no matter how wise they are, they are flawed people. Going back to Harry Potter, think of Dumbledore. He’s one of the wisest wizards in the world and still makes frighteningly bad decisions in the books.

Jake looks up to Uncle Calvin. He’s the cool, weird uncle who has an encyclopedic knowledge of urban legends and folklore, and he seems to believe in most of it, too. What little kid isn’t going to latch onto a person like that?

Villain – This is the first tricky one. I’m halfway through the book and there’s no clear Villain. But as I established in the blog post about the Five Promises an author makes, there’s a secret that doesn’t want to stay secret. Who’s this secret’s keeper? Are they the Villain? A Villain is supposed to be a bad guy we can put a face to—they make choices, they have an agenda. Based on the hints that adult Jake is dropping as he’s telling this story, there seems to be this building tension concerning Uncle Calvin. And I’m beginning to wonder if he’s unknowingly a Villain in this unfolding story.

The Fool – A fool is a person who says all the stuff that the main character doesn’t want to hear. They’re the reality check and bringer of harsh truths. The Saturday Night Ghost Club almost made me think there was no Fool, but there is, in fact, there are two. The first is Lex Galbraith, the Betamax store owner next to Uncle Calvin’s occult shop. He’s clearly a skeptic with his side comments like, “I find your ratbag theories insane.”

The second Fool . . . is adult Jake telling this story. I referred to how he breaks the suspension of disbelief by admitting small confessions to the reader (or whoever listening to this yarn he’s spinning). He’s saying the harsh truths, telling us awful things we don’t want to hear because it ruins the idea of the fantasy, that ghosts, magic, and UFOs aren’t real. At the same time, I have to keep reminding myself he’s an unreliable narrator. This is how he “chooses to remember” this time in his life—if that’s the case—what does that mean for the events that he hasn’t revealed yet?

And that’s the key thing to focus on: the events he, adult Jake, is choosing to share with the reader.

Regardless, I’m willingly along for the ride.

Think about how this applies to your favorite book. How do the supporting characters influence the protagonist’s decision?

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