As a method of distraction lately, I've been trying (keyword, TRYING) to work on Fantasy Book 2 (the sequel to SNOW LIKE ASHES, my YA fantasy novel). I'd written about 20k words before I sent it to one of my adored writer-friends, who sent back a bunch of suggestions, mainly poking holes in plots that I KNEW were weak but kept telling myself wouldn't come off as being THAT weak. But, oh, they were, and I finally got to the point where I scrapped the whole thing and sat down and had a little panic attack.
Happening simultaneously, The Boyfriend was gearing up for the launch of the final book in a beloved series that he, his brother, and his father have all read and loved for years: Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. One night, shortly after I'd decided to scrap all 20k words I'd written for Fantasy Book 2, I was staring at our bookshelf, at the thirteen Wheel of Time books lined up all inconspicuously a few feet above my head, and half-asked, half-wondered-to-myself, "How did he do that?"
The Boyfriend: "How did who do what?"
Me: "Jordan. How did he write thirteen, soon to be fourteen books, that were the same story, and make every word in ever book relevant?"
The Boyfriend then proceeded to go into an hour-long lesson that would forever change how I see fantasy books. I could write out the lesson here, but an hour of talking translated into typing would be way more than I want to write in a blog post, so I'll just boil it down for you. Or, at least, this is the conclusion I came to, and one I think can be applied to EVERY genre, not just fantasy:
Every character in Jordan's series, no matter if they're secondary characters or that one guy who was in that town selling stuff that one time, has a destiny. Their own destiny, something intrinsically linked to them that guides them on their own great journey but ultimately comes back to help the main story thread in some way.
Once The Boyfriend explained this to me, I saw Fantasy Book 2 with more clarity than I had since I'd started mapping it out. The biggest flaw that made the scrapped-first-draft so awful was this very issue -- the only character who had a destiny was my main character. All other characters were just kind of bumping around behind her, picking up pieces in her wake, but not doing anything of consequence to THEMSELVES. I was holding back letting them have their own paths to walk for fear that my main character and her story would get lost in the shuffle.
But giving side characters destinies just as big and grand and amazing as the main character's doesn't have to be a hindrance -- it can be the blocks with which a multifaceted, multilayered story is built. The reason Jordan's series is so long, so popular, and so beloved is because there are so many different layers, characters, stories, and destinies, and all this creates a richness that goes above and beyond a one-character-one-destiny plot. Every character matters, every character has their own life and their own struggles and their own future. And maybe, in some small way, these multifaceted stories remind us that everyone, no matter how small, can have a big, sweeping destiny too.