Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Secondary characters

Because I have started writing something a bit different, I have gone back to the beginning with looking at craft books etc. I am reminded of the clock face Twyla Tharp mentioned -- how craftsmen have to polish up one skill, and then the next. Anyway, I started to read Donald Maass Writing the Break Out Novel Workbook AGAIN and not just going for the bits I like butthinking about some of the other bits and thinking about how I can apply this. It has highlighted so many areas that I need to work on, areas I thought I knew instinctively. It is the old things you think you know syndrome. And it is helpful to go back to basics.
Last night, I happened to be looking at secondary characters. All too often, Maass point out secondary character's main motivation is to say their lines and get off stage as quickly as possible. He says that it is impossible for a secondary character to take over, but I am not so sure about that -- nearly having had Simon Clare take over A Question of Impropriety. But I do know what he means -- secondary characters need to have a life. They need to have conflicting qualities, extra dimensions and larger than life qualities. They simply have to do in less space. Sometimes a lightening quick sketch can give a lot of insight.
The exercise about choose a character who aids your protagonist got me thinking. How can I add an extra dimension? How can make the motivation different from the easy one? Why is this character with his hopes and dreams going to become real to me? And how can I use him to add colour to the world?
One of the good things that I have done this year is to look at different lines. Some lines have far more characters but about the same line count. It has been interesting to see how a few deft words can really create an impression.

The decorating continues. The plastering is done. The first coat is on in my study. And I like the colour (always a bonus.) BUT it does mean the living room has to be cleared now...


Angelina Barbin said...

I just downloaded the Maass book since you and Donna have both mentioned it on your blogs. (It must be a sign.)

Happy Thanksgiving! The only time I have ever eaten brussel sprouts and turnips was in the UK for a Thanksgiving meal. A friend of mine on the base married a Brit and she was a great cook.

Angel (Angel66 on eHarl)

Michelle Styles said...

Angel --

Well I converted Donna to the merits of Donald Maass but he is not for everyone. For some people, he makes them feel like rabbits in a headlight. But he works for me and makes me think which is good.