Writing Tips & Tools

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lesson 13: Enriching Your Cast

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section One: Enriching Your Cast.

Complexity in a novel is a desirable quality. Adding plot layers is one way to do it or enriching your characters is another. But not by adding new characters, but by eliminating them...or more accurately, by combining them.

Step: 1 In two columns, list in two columns...the names of all major, secondary, and minor characters...and the purpose or function of each in the story...be brief in the description, like...supports protagonist, supports antagonist, provides special knowledge.

Step: 2 If you have ten or fewer characters, cross out the name of one. Delete him/her from the story....yea...go on...do it...LOL! If you have ten or more characters, cross out two.

Step: 3 Your cast list is now shorter by one or two, but there remains one or two functions that need to be filled. Assign those functions to one or more of the remaining characters.

Note: Give the people in your novel many roles and your story will be the big beneficiary.

Follow-up: Are there other characters in your novel who can take on multiple roles? Go down the list and note the possibilities, then put them in practice. Find at least two more roles to combine into one.

Conclusion: Were you to complete this exercise. Some authors have great difficulty with it. Most are able to reduce their casts, which makes the remaining ones more interesting. Why? Because not only do they have more to do, but them have become capable of more.


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