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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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A Cast of Thousands
by Tina Morgan

One of the primary mistakes of many new writers is filling their stories with enough characters to populate a small city.

A myriad of characters can bog down the story and become cumbersome to your readers. The larger the cast, the less time you have to develop them. They become like a crowd in a shopping mall the day before Christmas. Most will have a story to tell but too many stories and you become lost under the sheer weight of the words.

So how do you choose which characters to keep and which to relegate to the status of scenery? Start with your protagonist and the primary conflict. Is that conflict large enough to sustain a full length novel? Can you develop your protagonist so that the reader wants to follow them on their journey to resolve the conflict? If you can say yes to both of those questions then it's time to look at why you have so many characters helping tell your story.
Keeping in the theme of Christmas, let's take a look at the characters in Dickens's, A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts. These ghosts come onto the stage and take Scrooge on a journey but their own stories are insignificant to his transformation so they're not told.

The ghost of Christmas Past takes him to a Christmas party many years prior. Instead of naming all of the guests, Scrooge reflects upon two or three and how they impacted his life. It doesn't matter if one of the guests went on to save the world. This isn't his/her story.

The primary conflict is Scrooge's bitter view on the world and how it impacts his life. The only characters that need be presented in any detail are those that can affect his beliefs and attitude.

When Scrooge is visited by Christmas Present, he visits Cratchit's family. What if Mrs. Cratchit had an elderly aunt that was very ill and when she dies, they inherit a sizeable estate? That could change the outcome of the story but it takes us too far a field of Scrooge's internal transformation. We're here to see him grow as a person, not to save Tiny Tim. Regardless of how much we may wish to do so.

Christmas Future takes us into the scene where Scrooge's belongings are being pilfered. While the back stories of these thieves may actually be more interesting than Scrooge himself, it wanders too far from the core conflict and would corrupt the story being told.

If you find you have as many characters as your graduating class, then odds are you need to start eliminating. (Unless of course you had an exceptionally small class.)

Take a judicial look at your story and ask yourself the following questions when trying to decide who to keep and who to delete:

1) Does this character further the plot?

2) Does this character significantly contribute to the protagonist/antagonist's character development?

3) If this is a small but vital role, do you need to introduce a new character or would it be possible to have an existing character perform the necessary action?

4) Do you need to spend time on this character or can they just be a walk-on? Someone who comes in, performs an action and then leaves?

Eliminating a character you've put time and effort into creating can be difficult but don't look at it like wasted time, put this character in a folder for consideration in a later story.


Copyright 2003 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved


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