Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to Improve Your Writing - What to Do When a New Character Shows Up

By Merrill Heath

I was working on an early chapter in Bishop's Move when a new character showed up. I told my wife, "A new character showed up today. I wasn't expecting her. But I'm glad she came along. I like her. It will be interesting to see what impact she has on the story." Well, what I learned was that she would be the catalyst for a whole new subplot. That was good because I needed another thread to weave into the fabric of the story and it actually related to and provided contrast with the first subplot in some ways. And, more importantly, she provided new insight into Harry's personality.

When I write I try to plan ahead three or four chapters. This gives me direction on what I need to be writing on a given day. But my chapter outlines are not detailed enough to be restrictive or to dampen the creativity. I'll talk more about this in a subsequent article on plot development. But the point I want to make today is that sometimes when I actually start writing the chapter goes in a different direction than I had planned. If it's early in the story new characters are often the reason for the change.

The hard part is figuring out whether a new character adds to the story or is merely a distraction. Most of the time you won't know right away. You have to give it time to incubate a little. You have to take time to get to know the character before you can see the impact he (or she) will have. If the new character adds to the story, then write him in. But if he's just a distraction then you must have the discipline to not let him get in the way. This can be hard sometimes. In Consequences I had a really fun character who was prominent at the beginning and the ending of the novel. He was someone I got to know very well and I really liked him. But as the story progressed I realized that he really didn't add anything to the story. As a result his part got trimmed down significantly and, eventually, cut out completely. He's still a great character and I'm sure he will show up in another novel. He just wasn't right for this one.

When you are in the creative process of writing, new characters will often show up. Sometimes when you least expect them. You don't want to push them away without first getting to know them a little. You need to see how they fit into your story. If they do...great...go with it. But if they don't...you can't let them be a distraction. You have to be disciplined enough to cut them if they aren't needed.

Merrill Heath is an author who has a strong desire to "pay it forward" by helping other authors improve their craft. For more information on his novels and current projects visit his blog at: http://merrillheath.wordpress.com.

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