Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lesson 12: The Cast of Characters

Ever consider strengthening your manuscript by giving your characters dual roles? Donald Maass, in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, suggests exactly that. Years ago when Maass did a full-day workshop for my Georgia Romance Writers chapter, he had us write down all the “people” in our book and tell what reason their presence served in the story. Then he had us decide which characters could be eliminated and their “jobs” picked up by some other character. Yes, it cuts down on the number of guys and gals our readers have to remember, but it also gives that “Ah-hah!” effect when a seemingly inconsequential walk-on turns out to have a surprise role at the end of the story.

Those of us writing category stories have to work with a low word count so we don’t have the luxury of an extended cast. But anyone writing a bigger book – or a breakout novel – can introduce a multitude of characters within the course of a 100,000-word manuscript. Maass makes the point that doubling up on a character’s purpose tightens the story and makes it better.

I’ve used the technique when coming up with the actual villains for my stories. Often I’ll start writing with one bad guy in mind. Yet as I work through the pages, I realize I’ve been too obvious. By going back and turning a minor character into the villain, I’ve added a twist the reader, hopefully, doesn’t expect.

After I logged off today, I’ll jot down all the characters in my work-in-progress and then start cutting. Then I’ll reassign roles to those who are left. Maybe I’ll end up with a surprise of two. I’ll let you know!

It’s mid-April and time to make plans for the National RWA conference this summer. If you’re going and plan to pitch a story to an editor or agent, be sure to stop by today. We’re talking about pitch techniques and there’s lots of good information! Hope to see you there.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti


PamelaTracy said...

"Those of us writing category stories have to work with a low word count so we don’t have the luxury of an extended cast"
Boy, did this resonant with me. My critique group -waving at the CCLP's - all lament about my numberous cast of character. I've learned how to combine three characters into one. It's made me a better writer, but unfortunately, my first drafts always have at least twenty characters that will disappear by the final cut. sigh

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Pam, thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you've already put Donald Maass' technique into action!