Tag Archives: characters

Everyone’s a Star

7 Jan

I spent the first morning of this year at Melissa‘s new house, in what will eventually become her library (and, I assume, writing room).

We talked for hours.  Naturally, the subject of our novels-in-progress came up.  I blathered on about how difficult revision can be, how it sometimes feels like a huge puzzle.  Being the awesome critique partner she is, though, she’s great at feeling out whether I need her to challenge me, or whether I need simple encouragement.

Well, that morning was all about encouragement.  She mentioned one of the things she loved about my WIP was that I was able to weave a lot of threads together and not drop them (specifically, she remembered this post I wrote about spider legs).  I so enjoy complicated, well-woven books/TV shows/movies—it’s only natural that I would attempt to write one.

However.

This got me thinking about how long it took to actually spin the threads, not to mention how long it’s taken to weave them together without dropping them.  (Answer: I’m on my fourth draft.  One of those drafts was a total rewrite, another was a partial rewrite.  A long time.)

I thought I’d share my secret today.  Alas, there is no secret to the weaving of the threads—just diligence, patience, perseverance, and faith that it will all pay off.  No, the secret I want to share is about how to spin the threads in the first place.

The number one thing that has given my novel depth and decent subplots is this:

Treat every character like the star of the show, even if they’re only on stage for two seconds.

Here’s what I mean by that.

My first draft fell flat because I only knew my main character.  He was vibrant against a background of half-drawn people whose motivations were no more than what I needed them to be in the moments they were on stage.

The second draft became a total rewrite because I got to know my minor characters.  Period.

I remember sitting in my favorite Starbucks, looking at all the people I knew well, and all the people who were strangers.  It occurred to me: I feel like the center of my world, because I come complete with 27 years of memories, opinions, experiences, and relationships.  But: that stranger over there?  To him, I’m a minor character, and HE’S the star of his own world.  Just because I’m on the stage of his life for two seconds, it doesn’t mean I’m any less real of a person.  And just because I’ve never seen him before, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have several decades of opinions, experiences, etc.

THAT, my friends, revolutionized my writing.

I started thinking of my minor characters in that way: who are they, behind the scenes?  What do they want, what do they feel, what emotions are they experiencing?  How do they live and breathe and speak, even when we don’t see them?

After thinking about these things, my story changed.  Not the main plot—but all the subplots.  There were lots of things going on behind the central story, believable things that enhanced the main plot.

When Lexie, one of my favorite characters, walks on stage, she is 100% Lexie—not some cardboard cliché who merely does what I need her to do.  Every piece of dialogue, every movement she makes, every decision, ALL of these are completely in line with who I know she is.  She’s one of the more major minor characters (got that? ha!).  I’ve done my best to get to know most of my characters in this way.

This might sound like a lot of work.  I hope it does, because, um, it IS.  But, it comes in handy when you’re trying to weave the threads later.  When you know your characters and their lives so well, you don’t have to guess about whether or not they would act a certain way—things just start to fall into place. You start to remember the threads you spun like you remember things going on in your friends’ lives (at least, I do), which makes it much easier to weave them together without forgetting you started them in the first place.

So, moral of the story: minor characters are just as real as your major characters.  They’re flesh and bone and experience, not cardboard.  Everyone feels like a star in their own lives—write them that way, whether it’s their story or not.

Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  

 

PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.