Well yes, of course it does, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about today.
I saw Jurassic World on Friday, and this post comes from that. The movie itself is good enough - I went to see dinosaurs eat people and got that - but there were some serious character issues that I spotted while watching the movie. And trust me, if I can spot problems with a story while I'm experiencing said story, they're significant problems.
I'm going to be talking freely about the movie here, and there will be spoilers, so if you haven't seen it or don't want it spoiled, you might want to come back to this entry afterward.
Still here? Cool.
So the movie starts off with two brothers. One's at most nine or ten, the other's a stereotypically surly teenager, probably about sixteen. These kids deal with some of the story's important characters, get lost when everything goes wrong and have to be rescued, and in general do all the things you expect kids to do in an action movie.
They also add nothing to the over-arching plot and could have been removed with no effect on the real events of the story.
This is not something I should be able to say about any characters in any story. If a character serves as more than just part of the background, they should matter to the tale, they should be undeniably significant, they should change what happens in a way that ensures the story could not have turned out the same without them.
Not everyone has to be the hero, but if you're going to put a kindly shopkeeper into the story, make sure the shopkeeper provides the hero with an item that later becomes vitally important. Don't just put them there to show that the hero shops local.
This goes along with the Law of Conversation of Detail. We assume that if someone is in the story, they're there for a reason. So if a character is in the story, if they appear in multiple scenes and get character development and come out changed in the end, their presence needs to have an effect on the plot. The movie's actual plot - genetic engineering has re-created dinosaurs, genetically-created uber-saurus gets loose, other dinosaurs escape, chaos ensues, Our Heroes bring uber-saurus down - would have turned out the exact same way without the kids. Hell, without them, it would have been a tighter plot with more time for development of the actual protagonists who do things that make the plot move. And some of that screen time could have been used to make the lead woman character's development less of a blatant stereotype. -_-
The exception to this is Chris Pratt's character, who I'm pretty sure knew he was the hero in an action movie and acted accordingly. He didn't get any development, because he was a badass who cared about the dinosaurs from the start, and that was all he needed to be. But I digress.
Part of why I'm talking about this is because I've dealt with it in my own work. Years ago, I cut a character from a plot the day before I started writing the book, because I realized she was unnecessary. A current plot-in-progress has a similar issue, which is why I decided not to write it yet - I'm not sure if I need to expand a character's role or delete it completely. So it's an issue I understand, which is why it stuck out to me so much while I watched the movie.
Have any of you experienced this, in your reading or watching? I realize it's a stretch to call a character useless, but I know it when I see it, and I doubt I'm the only one. Or have you seen this in your own writing, and had to excise a character who didn't matter from your work? 'Murder your darlings' is not supposed to be literal, but it happens. Thoughts?