Minor Characters

Minor characters are sneaky.  They are necessary to the story but they aren’t supposed to take over.  The problem comes when one or more of them do exactly that.  So what to do?

Depends.  There are two kinds of minor characters.  You need to know which category your minor character belongs to before you can decide what to do about it.

The first category is that in which the minor characters flesh out the story, make it deeper, stronger and better. But if that character could be written out of the story without changing the story itself, then that particular character isn’t essential.  Rein them in, keep them under control.  Do it!

The second category is that in which the minor character is essential but isn’t the character that the story is about.  Same question applies.  Could you write that character out without changing the story?  If the answer is ‘no’ then you should think long and hard before you rein in that character.

Because your story just might be better for enlarging that character’s place and letting him or her take over a larger chunk of the action.

I’m thinking about this because, in my book Spirit Legend that’s going to be featured in a Book Blast starting the 8th of April (drum roll, please) a minor character took over and became a major player.  I didn’t know it was happening until after the book was finished.  It was the reviews that made it very clear that the character of the spirit in the lake was pivotal and important.  Reviewers used words like  ‘charming.’  ‘interesting.’  and ‘endearing.’  And the spirit only came into existence as a device to hang a story on.  Until it took over and I let it run riot because I couldn’t figure out how to rein it in.

Now that I’m deep into Wolf Legend, the same thing is happening to the character of the psychic wolf pup Snowball.  She was supposed to be an afterthought.  She now has a starring role and I’m glad to say that this time around I’m smart enough to recognize what’s happening and run with it.

So expect to see a lot of Snowball in Wolf Legend.  And I’m looking forward to seeing whichever of your minor characters take over and run with your story when you publish your next piece.

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

A while back, in one of my first posts, I mentioned hearing a bird in the forest near our wilderness resort.  A bird we could never locate and always wondered about.  After the resort was sold and we’d moved closer to town and were preparing to build a house, we went to a home show looking for ideas.

As we entered, we  heard that bird.  We looked at each other and, moving as one person, almost ran to the booth that we believed had a bird in a cage.  Perhaps they sold bird cages.  Or had a garden theme.  We didn’t know, we just knew we were about to finally… finally… find out what kind of bird made that sound.

It wasn’t a bird.  It was a cougar.  It was tame and in a cage where it couldn’t harm anyone.  But the feeling I got upon realizing that a cougar had been nearby when I walked in the forest was something I’ll never forget.

I breathed a prayer of thanks to the two large dogs who always accompanied me when I took walks in the woods.  I never asked them to come, they just did, ambling under the trees.  And keeping me safe even when I didn’t know I needed protecting.

So now comes the point of this post.  That experience… the emotion I felt when I learned I’d possibly been stalked by a cougar… became my novella Wanted:  Sharpshooter.

As I wrote, the feelings just gushed out.  Even though I’d not been afraid during all those years of walking in the forest, I knew what that kind of fear would have been like because of the sheer terror that went along my spine for a brief moment when i saw that tame cougar in the home show.

But Wanted:  Sharpshooter isn’t my only book based on experience.  I find that everything I write is based on something that has happened.   And I also find that there is no limit to the experiences that fuel my imagination and in some manner become the stories I write.

So what inspires you?  Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?  Experience?  Pure imagination?  Something you read or hear about in the media?  A dream that is so vivid you must get it written down?

Let me know.  I’m curious.

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE EASY WAY TO ORGANIZE

Autumn has arrived in the north country.  It’s not the peak of the colors, that’ll come in three weeks or so.  But there’s enough color in the landscape to know summer is ending.  And the nights are sometimes downright cold, even freezing. 

You’d think all this praise for autumn would mean it’s my favorite season.  Nope.  Not true.  That’s reserved for winter.  Yes, winter, that white time of year when the temperature can and does drop below zero by thirty, even forty degrees.  Even more surprising, it’s my favorite season in spite of the fact that I’m allergic to cold.  (Yes, really, I break out in hives.)

Why so much praise for autumn, and why is my favorite season the only one in which I spend much of my time inside? It’s my favorite because I spend so much time inside.  Because life slows down then.  Because there are fewer social obligations. 

It’s my favorite because I can write in the winter.  And write.  And write.  And write some more.

So the question becomes… what to write during all those wonderful, quiet winter hours?  That’s where autumn comes in.  Because it’s the time of year when all things come to fruition, thus clearing the way for whatever comes next. 

Every autumn I take stock of the accomplishments of the past year and plan ahead to the next one.  It’s when I make course corrections or change course entirely.  When I decide what about my writing is working and what isn’t.  So that when winter and all those hours of useful silence arrive, I’ll be ready.

This is something every writer should do once a year.  Not necessarily in the autumn but sometime.  Most people instinctively know this.  The problem is, many simply don’t do it.

Do it.  Make the time.  Because it’s the easiest way I know to organize your mind, your work and your writing.  Once a year go wherever you go or do whatever you do when you need to think.   Don’t bring any pieces of paper, or lists because there should be nothing between you and your thoughts.  You’ll be amazed how things will fall into place and your career path will become clear. 

Then put the seat of your pants on the seat of your chair and see how much you can achieve.

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE MENTAL ASPECT OF WRITING

Some time ago, I purchased a book on writing fiction.  Not my first such purchase by any means, but the blurb for this book intrigued me because it promised to teach me how to write fiction.  So I sent for the book and when it arrived I read it cover to cover.

There wasn’t much about the craft of fiction writing in the book.  Less than half, maybe only a third.  The rest of the book was about meditation.

How to meditate. When to meditate.  How often to meditate.  And what should happen inside my mind during and after meditation.  I followed the instructions carefully, though with skepticism.  I’ve always believed in the power of taking a few minutes sometime during the day and just dong nothing.  Relaxing.  Napping.  Sipping tea.  Anything.   But meditation?  Come on now!  But I tried it.

 I soon learned that I simply cannot close my eyes and think about nothing.  No matter how hard I try, no matter how many mantras I repeat, no matter how many fluffy, pink clouds I visualize.  I can’t do it.  I just can’t. 

But I got what the author of that book was trying to tell me.  That writing begins in the mind.  In the thoughts of the writer.  If those thoughts are muddy and confused and skittering every which way without focus or center or purpose, then the end result will also be muddy, confused and lacking focus, center or purpose. 

It’s a sad fact that sometimes the harder we writers try to write, if we try too hard, then instead of focusing better on what we’re doing, we actually lose focus and our writing suffers.

When this happens, take a break. 

If you can meditate, do so.  If you’re like me, get up out of the chair, leave the room, get as far away from writing as possible and do whatever relaxes you, be it gardening, painting, shopping or whatever.  And don’t return to that chair until every single mental cobweb is gone and your mind is sharp and focused and you know… you don’t just think, you know … what you want to tell your readers.

Doing this isn’t being lazy.  It’s not unprofessional.  It’s a professional answer to a common problem, and you will end up spending fewer hours writing than you would have spent if you forced yourself to do something when your mind wasn’t there.