Saturday, December 1, 2012

Out of sight, out of mind?

Since I posted progress on Tiamat's Nest last month, I've added another 7,500 words, a bit short of my target of 10k a month. I find I'm still struggling with that "What happens next?" question.

Things seemed to be going along fairly well for most of November. Then I hit a brick wall, and belatedly realized that I'm also grappling once more with an earlier demon from August - tangled timelines and parallel plot threads.

This demon got cunning, though, and ambushed me from behind. I didn't spot him until it was too late, because all my parallel threads are happening off stage and I didn't even realize they were there!

The thing is, when you write with just one or two POV characters, the story revolves around what those characters experience. It's easy to forget about all those others who've vanished off stage for a while.

Easy, but dangerous!

All your characters, even the minor ones, have lives of their own to lead. When they disappear from the page, it's tempting to shelve them, ready to bring them back into the story when they're next needed.

That might work if their lives off stage genuinely don't intersect with the story. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione carried on with their adventures, I'm sure Snape didn't spend the whole time perched on a stool in his dungeon until he was needed. He must have had other things to do, but we don't know about them because they weren't relevant. Fine, but as a writer, how do you know unless you've given it some thought?

When Frodo and Sam escaped from the Shire and arrived at The Prancing Pony, Gandalf was nowhere to be seen. Was he sitting in a leafy glade, smoking his pipe, and waiting for his cue to turn up at Rivendell? Was he heck! He was having his own adventure with Saruman, but we only get to hear about that later on because the story is not told from his point of view.

In my case, I started off with multiple participants and had to use various tricks to untangle the various storylines. I settled on just two POV characters, but I was still very much aware of the other threads to be woven together.

The point I've reached in the story, both my POV characters are now together (which is posing challenges of its own) and I was merrily pootling along telling their story. I started running out of steam, feeling like I was missing something important, and it finally clicked - those other non-POV individuals are still out there, and they are important to the story! They need to be doing things to help, and I've been neglecting them.

I hope they'll forgive me, and choose to co-operate!

The lesson is that all your characters have their own story to tell. It may be relevant, it may not, but even so it might help enrich the story you're telling. So, it's worth asking yourself, for each of your off-stage characters, what might X be doing now, and is it important to the story?


  1. Hi Ian .. hope they let you out of the doldrums soon and co-operate .. cheers Hilary

  2. I am sure after a little pouting your other characters will come around and help you out with what they have been up to.
    Even if you haven't met your target I am in awe of you.

  3. Complications......almost as hard to keep track of your characters as it is the real people in your life.

  4. Hilary, I hope so. I did more plotting last night and I think they were glad to be noticed at last!

    Mynx, the ones I'm in awe of are all those NaNo-ers out there who hit 50k in one month! I can't imagine keeping up that pace.

    Delores, at least people in real life tend to remind you they're there. Missing characters just sit in the wings, drinking coffee, until you notice them and put them back to work.

  5. Perhaps you could check those other characters' Facebook timelines, LOL. Wouldn't that be nice? I've heard of several tools for this sort of thing and seen bulletin boards with note cards and string connecting them sort of like FBI investigation boards on TV. Maybe something like this would help? Good luck. Sci-Fi/Fantasy is really tricky with all the plots and parallels needed to make it really rich. This is partially why I like YA so much.

  6. Can't neglect those minor characters. They're great for adding all those little subplots and twists and turns along the way. Hopefully yours spice things up and make the story fun for you again!

  7. Shell, there's a heap of tools for this, paper and electronic. I've blogged about tools before too, so I should know better, but I just forgot they were there!

    Jean, things are flowing a lot better now, thanks. 1100 words today - that's almost NaNo pace. Pity it took me all day to achieve it :)

    And a few plot twists too, to make life interesting.

  8. Minor characters are tricky, but if they're in a story they are there for a reason. So, whilst they can be off-stage for a while, in the end their story must be resolved the same as any of the major characters.

    Great post, and congratulations on the word count.

  9. I'm dealing with this in my novel, which has around 5 different POVs going on at once. My method? To write the chapters of the core POV (my main protagonist) first, since they make up the bulk of the novel anyway. Later, I will go back and write the POV chapters of my secondary characters, in order of descending importance.

    Will they all meet neatly in the end? I doubt it. But I have confidence that I'll have most of the important ticks squared away. Good luck with squaring away yours, Ian!

  10. Ellie, minor characters should be there for a reason, for sure. Not sure they need quite the same resolution as the major characters, because their story might diverge from the one you are trying to tell, but their contribution at least should be resolved.

    David, that's a lot to keep track of! Good luck. For the earlier part of this story I had some success with writing the main threads as if they were separate stories, and then lining up the timelines and splicing them together.

  11. One thing I've learned is that characters rarely cooperate. Maybe it's because I treat them so mean! ;)

  12. Lynda, that's so true! I'm sure non-cooperation is in the job description somewhere :)

  13. Wow, sounds like you're plugging along:)

  14. Mark, things are moving better now, thanks!

  15. Ah yes... this was one of the great challenges of my main WiP. I have five main characters and three main antagonists and a huge cast of supporting characters.

    And EVERYTHING is relevant.

  16. Any chance you could send me an email at I need to send you the details for my January cover reveal and can't find your email address. Thanks!

  17. Misha, oddly I don't seem to have problems tracking a supporting cast, but when my main characters vanish off stage the problems start.

    Ellie, will do! I'd forgotten all about that, thanks for the reminder :)

  18. I know what you mean, Ian, I am facing the same issue, among many others, with my first novel. I've managed to write about 5000 words and I often find myself facing a brick wall...there are days when I cannot write a single word and I it me or it usually happens to greater minds as well ? :)

  19. Unikorna, I'll let 'greater minds' speak for themselves, but I can assure you it's perfectly normal. Just Google 'Writers block' and see how much advice there is out there, and it's a recurring theme in blog posts. You are in good company :)

  20. Hi Ian. I've just written my fourth novel, but it is the first one I've finished completely as I followed some advice to write the end first. This was fine as I knew how it was going to end. It was much easier then to go back to the beginning and start. For a while I was writing backwards, and actually wrote the last four chapters. Now I'm editing and hope to submit in January.

    You'll get through that brick wall!



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