As I was test driving the Storybook software I downloaded a while back, trying to decide if it will be as good a writing tool as Scrivener, I suddenly discovered that I have no idea what the difference is between a major and a minor character. They’ve all just been characters, with the exception of the protagonist and antagonist of course. Yet I was being asked by this novel-writing software to decide who were major characters and who were minor characters in my book, Apprentice Cat. A little research later and I had my answer.
Archive for the ‘Editing & Critiquing’ Category
Posted in Editing & Critiquing, General Writing, tagged Bob Mayer, hidden gems, Kristen Lamb, Les Edgerton, little darlings, Novel Writer's Toolkit, Stephen King, story-worthy problem, surface problem, The Road to Writing, Virginia Ripple on May 14, 2011| Leave a Comment »
What makes you uncomfortable with or defensive about your story is worth looking at closely for two reasons: 1) it could be a hidden gem, or 2) it could be a little darling.
Sometimes as we write our subconscious seeds our stories with hidden gems, like how or where your protagonist will find the answer to his surface problem*.
In Bob Mayer’s book, Novel Writer’s Toolkit, he talks about a writer getting stuck with a particular problem in the story (the main character needs to discover some vital information in order to solve the mystery) and not knowing how to resolve it. It only took a quick look back through what was already written to find the answer in a short bit of description (several journals the character had seen on a shelf in another character’s office).
Another possible hidden gem your subconscious could work in is a story-worthy problem.
While it is important to give at least a minimum amount of thought to what your protagonist’s underlying issue is, sometimes the real issue develops deep within your own mind and isn’t revealed until you begin writing.
For instance I recently wrote a scene where my main character’s father, an ordinarily soft-spoken and gentle character, speaks condescendingly to his son, my protagonist. It’s a scene I’ve hated reading because it makes me uncomfortable. I’ve considered several times removing it, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
However, since going back to basics with this story and trying to develop myself into more of a planner and less of a pantser, I’ve realized this scene reveals my main character’s story-worthy problem — the need to believe in himself. Had I taken it out before finishing the entire story I might have missed this very important detail.
On the other hand, those “special” scenes that we feel the need to defend as “necessary” may not be necessary at all. They could be little darlings, as Stephen King calls them, and need to be eliminated (or at least banished to a folder far far away from the rest of your civilized manuscript).
To know the difference you can ask this very important question: does this move the story along? If it does, great! If it slows things down you may need to cut it. At the very least you’ll have to revise it, which means shortening and tightening.
A lot of my personal little darlings tend to be flashbacks and memories. They’re fun scenes and often moving, but necessary? Probably not. Some of the information needs to remain, but there are certainly better ways to scatter it through the rest of the story.
One example from my WIP is a flashback where my protagonist’s father is teaching him what the term “warming up” means. It’s cute, even endearing, but it really slows down the story. Instead, I’ll be re-writing the flashback into a memory, most likely as a couple of sentences instead of the several paragraphs it currently is. It’ll be painful, but it’s necessary.
Writing a great novel can be tough, but thankfully we’re not alone. There are multitudes of free blogs and inexpensive books we can read to help us learn about craft. Best of all, there are other writers and readers out there we can get in touch with thanks to social media who can become our mentors and beta readers. With all those great resources available, it makes it that much easier to decide if that scene is a hidden gem or a little darling.
How do you make that decision?
*For more information on surface vs. story-worthy problems check out Les Edgerton’s book Hooked.
Posted in Editing & Critiquing, General Writing, tagged book, creating characters, drama, escalating conflict, Hooked, inciting incident, Les Edgerton, story, The Road to Writing, Thelma and Louise, Virginia Ripple, writer, writing on April 9, 2011| Leave a Comment »
I am not a fan of drama. However, against my better judgement, I took the advice Les Edgerton gives in Hooked and rented Thelma & Louise in order to learn about how to create a “proper” inciting incident and the resulting escalating conflicts.
I wish I could say the movie pleasantly surprised me, but it didn’t. It was exactly as I figured it would be. Yes, it has a powerful ending. Yes, the real inciting incident isn’t what most people think it is. No, I didn’t find the story riveting or the conflict keeping me glued to the screen, though I did watch the whole movie out of respect for the cast, crew and Les (and to get my $3.50’s worth).
I can say that I learned something from the movie, though it’s not exactly what Les probably meant to be learned. In the case of Thelma & Louise, and most other dramas I’ve read/watched, the inciting incident is the first in a string of bad decisions in which each bad decision is decidedly worse than the last. If you truly care about the characters, this would indeed be conflict for the reader as well as the characters. If… and that’s a big if.
Life is drama. I don’t need to see it played out on the big screen or read about it in a book. For me, simply being human in an unpleasant situation is not enough. Therefore, characters like Thelma or Louise only irritate me. They make bad decision after bad decision, never stopping to consider the consequences or the other characters in their lives. That is not entertainment. That is a train wreck.
The problem for writers arises in trying to create characters readers will connect with. Escalating conflict isn’t enough. If your reader doesn’t care about what happens to your character, then she may be cheering for the character’s demise by the end of the book. (I was by Season 5 Episode 22 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
So what’s a writer to do? Here are 6 links that can help you create characters your readers will fall in love with:
- T is for Terrific: 4 Ways to Create Minor Characters
- 5 Questions About Characters’ Desires
- Checklist of 17 Character Qualities
- Holy Rusted Metal, Batman, I’m A Sidekick!
- How We Write Wednesdays: Making Characters Realistic–YOUR Way
- Let your MC succeed while they’re failing – the power of reward
What do you think? Does a chain of bad decisions make a great story or do you need to fall in love with the characters first?
Posted in Editing & Critiquing, General Writing, tagged editing, editor, left brain, rewriting, right brain, storyfix.com, The Road to Writing, Therese Walsh, Virginia Ripple, writing on March 26, 2011| 2 Comments »
I just read a fantastic post on storyfix.com by Therese Walsh about ways to get creative Right Brain working with analytic, “hatchet-happy” editor, Left Brain. Instead of trying to explain what Therese says, I’ve decided to repost it. Here it is:
Can Editing Be Fun? Maybe.
a guest post by Therese Walsh
First, I want to thank Larry for having me today on his fab site. It’s great to be here!
When I asked Larry what he might like for me to blog about, he gave me a few ideas. He knew I’d just turned a completed manuscript over to my editor and was waiting for the first round of notes and edits. Could I speak to the editing process? I thought about it; what did I have to offer here that might be fresh? And what I came back to is something Larry said: “I know in my experience this is the toughest stuff. The writing is bliss, the editing is WORK.”
You might think this crazy, but for me, editing is…fun. I have the harder time getting ideas onto the page to begin with. I toil over concepts, the timing of reveals, characterizations and descriptions and most especially the wording of my sentences (8,302 of them in my work-in-progress; I just counted).
Something happens to me, though, after I hit that final period in my draft—the end. I turn from fretful writer to dispassionate editor.
How? Why? And fun? Am I crazy?