I thought I had done a decent amount of planning before starting in on my novel. I spent a month following Michael Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel” approach to plot building. I developed five viewpoint characters for my epic, complete with descriptions of personalities, wants, goals, situations, and what was holding them back. But I stopped there. I completely ignored my supporting cast.
Identifying my Character(ization) Flaws
When I started, my supporting characters were little more than cutouts. As I discussed in my post on comparing outlining schemes, some characters were no more than “archer 1” or “sergeant.” I had no names and no descriptions. I addressed that problem in the new outline scheme, assigning names, describing features, and laying out wants for each scene in the outline. But something was missing. My characters’ wants met the needs of the plot as often as they met the needs of the characters, themselves, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to fix it. I had solved one problem, but opened up another.
In reading David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines, bought during the Book Bomb for Ben, I stumbled on the obvious solution. My supporting cast members need to be well-rounded and to have their own arcs, even if they don’t get their own viewpoints. A few non-viewpoint characters already had arcs, significant changes, and try/fail cycles, but only the two or three that I considered to be “world shakers.” I realize now that even my main characters’ side kicks, henchmen, and servants- anyone who contributes, more or less- needs to have their own growth arc, no matter how short.
This is a mammoth undertaking in a multi-viewpoint epic fantasy! I have dozens of contributing (named) characters, including several that I didn’t know would exist when I started writing this thing. Now, I understand that advice about starting with something small. I always thought that was for the sake of being able to finish before giving up, but it also limits the scope of problems that will need correction in the rewrite. I don’t regret my decision to go large with my first novel, though. Even if I think about the hours of rewriting that I need to put in, it’ll all be worth it, and having to make more corrections that I otherwise would have will reinforce the lessons.
That said, my next novel is going to be YA, single viewpoint, and quite a bit shorter. I had already determined all of that. I’m happy to have an epic’s worth of experience, mistakes, and lessons to apply to a shorter work.
Today is my hundredth consecutive day of writing on the Magic Spreadsheet! It is unquestionably part of my routine, enough so that I find that I don’t have to concentrate on it to the exclusion of other hobbies anymore. That’s a good thing, since a promise to finish the new iteration of the TranSenz Translation website by the end of Golden Week (May 6), means that project is commanding more of my free time and I’m only hitting my minimum word counts. Still, I’m in the middle of Chapter 50 (120k words) of the Work in Progress and building to the climax.
I’ve finished both Million Dollar Outlines (though I’ll need to read through it again and again) and A Princess of Mars (which I will not read again), so I’m looking for new reading material. The first book helped me identify some ways to improve my outlining and story planning, which will be useful even if I don’t make a million. The second book was an interesting journey into century-old story-telling. Burroughs’ descriptions were terrific- he painted the scene in few words and moved on with the action, but his action got dull and routine. John Carter find himself in self-described impossible situation, everything miraculously works out, repeat. In the end, he actually has to use his head instead of his fists, and he forgets that he has the solution to the problem until the last possible minute. Yawn.
I am woefully behind on reading current Sci-Fi and Fantasy, so any suggestions in the comments would be welcome. I’m thinking about Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, but haven’t decided yet. Your thoughts?