Kami McArthur
Editing with the Elrics: Making Background Characters Pop Out

Don’t forget I’m doing a Fullmetal Alchemist pocket watch giveaway. Here’s how you can enter if you haven’t already.

  • Like or share this post on Facebook. Do both to enter twice. (Make sure when you share that it’s set to “public” so that I can see that you shared it.)
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  • Reblog this “Editing with the Elrics” post you are reading right now.

Winner will be announced at the beginning of August.




In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, there are kind of two main characters. And there are kind of not two main characters. The show follows the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers on a quest. What I found interesting though, is that for the opening episodes of the series, Alphonse (“Al”) as a character is defined by what he isn’t, instead of what he is. Even more interesting, he’s defined by Ed’s character.

Ed, who is really the protagonist here, is loud, hot-tempered, driven, and a talented alchemist. You get that Ed and Al are kind of a tag team, but only because they’re going everywhere together. Really, Al is kind of a background character (to begin with). Mostly, we know him by what he’s not. He’s not loud and hot-tempered like Ed, and he’s not as talented of an alchemist. He’s not a state alchemist like Ed. Sure, he can pack a punch, alongside Ed.


Long backstory short, Al doesn’t have a real body. His soul is bound to a suit of armor as a consequences to a moment of alchemy gone wrong. That’s interesting. But he’s in that suit of armor because of Ed.  The only real attention Al gets in the opening episodes is because people mistake him as Ed.

I haven’t seen a character so defined by someone else and by what he is not. I think that’s why it took me a while to learn to love Al. At first, I kind of felt like he was just there to foil Ed. That made me think about how we as writers can likewise define our characters by what they are not and by who they are with. Maybe we should look at that more.

Here’s an example that comes to mind (hope you don’t mind the Trigun references, but I’ve been rewatching it, so it’s fresh on my mind), in Trigun, Vash lives in a world where it’s normal for people to kill other people. As an audience, by seeing others kill and hurt people so casually, it’s easy for us to see what Vash isn’t. He’s not a killer. I think a lot of writers don’t think about defining what their characters are not. Something to consider.


Anyway, I fell in love with Al by the end of the series, and I realized that’s because I felt like I didn’t get to see his real strength and talent until later. Frequently the characters were in situations that favored Ed’s talents and abilities, and since Ed and Al are opposites, that often meant situations where Al didn’t get to show off his strengths.

It’s really not until Ed and Al go their separate ways that we see what Al can really do. And it’s awesome. That’s when I started to love him, because that’s when I started to really get to know him. The writer managed to make her “background” character pop out.

Sometimes quieter characters get overshadowed by the loud ones, so you need to get rid of the loud (if only temporarily) and overly talented ones to show what the quiet guys can do. That’s one reason a lot of mentor characters die in stories. They’re overpowering the pupil. Once they’re gone, we can see what the hero is really made of.

But you can show off the “quiet guys’” strength without separating them. All you need to do is put that character in situations that require his talents and strengths. I would have liked to have seen that more in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. I’d like to have seen Ed and Al get stuck in more situations that called for Al’s character traits, situations where he had to lead and Ed had to follow.


But when Al finally is put in situations that favor his strengths—he’s incredible. I love his character. We get to see him travel through a blizzard when no one else can, because he doesn’t have a human body. We see his strengths when he’s caring of others. And while Ed might be the better alchemist, Al is a better fighter. So here’s to the Elric brother that tends to get overshadowed, but he can handle it. He’s a humble character.

So, if you have a character that seems to be blending into the background:
1) Separate her from the characters that are taking all the thunder.
2) Or, put her in circumstances that show off her strengths.

More writing tips with Al next Monday.

So when you have writers block, how do you deal with it?


A Lack of Brainstorming

Usually when I get writer’s block, it’s because I haven’t brainstormed enough. I’m stuck because I don’t know what to do next. That’s when I stop and have a few brainstorming sessions to get the ideas flowing. If you’re having a hard time with your brainstorming, you could try brainstorming with someone, another friend or writer. He or she may have different ideas than you and one of them might spark. You might need to brainstorm more plot, a new character, or a new setting, depending on what you’re stuck on.

The Wrong Turn

I’ve heard other writers say that if you get writer’s block, it means you’ve taken a “wrong turn” with your story, and you need to go back a few pages to figure out where you strayed. Maybe you got writers’ block because you sent your character to a Vegas hotel, so you go back and realize she really needs to go to a circus instead, or maybe you realize she fell in love with the wrong person, and she really needs to fall in love with the cowboy, not the police man. I

Writing into a Corner

Sometimes you can get writer’s block because you’ve written your character into a corner. Maybe you’ve had a kidnapper tie her up and you can literally think of no way she can get out of the situation. In that case, you may need to go back and rewrite the story so she doesn’t get that stuck.

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You are a beautiful and interesting human being. I appreciate your existence. :)

Awe, thank you anonymous ;) You’ve made my day brighter. 

I'm setting up a little "My Novel" link on my blog, and I would just like to say that I'm kind of modelling it after yours in structure and such. I hope that's fine, but if not please tell me. It sounds amazing btw. i'm really looking forward to it.

Yup, that’s fine with me. Good luck! Thank you! I always love hearing when people are looking forward to my novel :)



"Ed, Al, I"m not feeling good today would you two be kind enough to get the groceries for me?"


"hey mom wer- Mom! mom get up!"

It’s Not Worth Quitting Over

Today I’m here to simply tell you: it’s not worth quitting over.

Frustrated with whatever you are working on? It’s not worth quitting over.

People making fun of you and whatever you’re doing? It’s not worth quitting over.

Suffering from writer’s block? It’s not worth quitting over.

Having a bad day? Having a bad life? It’s not worth quitting over.

Accumulating stigmas? It’s not worth quitting over.

Whatever is hampering you from reaching your goals, guess what? It’s not worth quitting over.

It’s not.

You can quit for other reasons, like a change in interest, a better opportunity, a switch in priorities, but don’t quit just from being hampered.

That slump you get stuck in writing, or that lady down the street who thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or the awful day you’re having—don’t give any of those enough power to make you quit. Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you quit. They aren’t worth you throwing away your goals and dreams. They probably wouldn’t even care if you did.

So when it gets tough, just take a breath, pull yourself together, and keep going.

And remember, it’s not worth quitting over.

Submitting a Novel
Writer: Well, here goes nothing.
Translation: Here goes my blood, sweat, tears, laughter, smiles, soul, passion, lifelong ambition.