Characters: Memorable Minors And Rounded Majors

December 10th, 2011

stick figure photoAs I was test driving the Storybook software I downloaded a while back, trying to decide if it will be as good a writing tool as Scrivener, I suddenly discovered that I have no idea what the difference is between a major and a minor character. They’ve all just been characters, with the exception of the protagonist and antagonist of course. Yet I was being asked by this novel-writing software to decide who were major characters and who were minor characters in my book, Apprentice Cat. A little research later and I had my answer.

Memorable Minors

Minor characters are usually flat, two-dimensional characters. They are the ones who show up in a scene or two to help move the plot along, but don’t need a complicated back story. However, just because a character has a minor role over-all that does not mean the character can’t be memorable. Darcy Pattison suggests four great ways to help create memorable minor characters without having to round the character out.

  1. An ailment such as a cold
  2. An unusual role
  3. An unusual job
  4. Distinctive facial features

Rounded Majors

Major characters are well-rounded. They are the protagonist, antagonist and any other character that needs an in-depth back story in order to fulfill their role in the plot. Of course, rounding out a major character means giving your reader some back story and that can be tricky. Ronni Loren has some tips on how to “dish out back story in digestible bites” like using

  1. dialogue
  2. minimal flashbacks or memories
  3. character thoughts
  4. action in the story

Knowing how to create memorable minor characters while slowly rounding out major characters can be hard work, but it’s a task worth tackling for a great story.

What makes you remember a character?

Cats and Lightsabers: The Best of Both Worlds

September 5th, 2011

Welcome to Laugh Out Loud Monday (aka LOL Monday): because, like my favorite¬†fat cat, I hate Mondays, I thought, “What better way to start the week than with a laugh?”

My husband is a Star Wars nut. He’s been a collector since childhood. I’ve always enjoyed watching sci-fi, but that’s about it. Now, thanks to my Dear Husband, I own my own toy Darth Maul lightsaber (yes, we had to duel after we put them together) and my own set of Darth Maul lightsaber chopsticks, which have a cool magnet setup so you can connect the handles.

Of course, I also love cats, which is a big reason why in my current WIP, Apprentice Cat, the protagonist is a magical tom cat. Toby befriends a reckless adolescent male witch in order track down the Master Cat responsible for the tom’s father’s disappearance before the Master Cat can take over the human-run government. (I’m still working on my one-sentence description. ūüôā )

So what do cats have to do with Star Wars?

Nothing, unless you’re a Jedi Kitten. Take a look:

What opposites have you balanced in your life? How have significant others influenced your hobbies?

The Silent Character

September 3rd, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

Apprentice Cat Cover

As I continue working on Apprentice Cat, I’ve begun noticing something interesting. ¬†In each scene there are the characters that are talking, acting, thinking or just hanging around, but they are there. ¬†I point them out as being there. ¬†Then there are characters who are there, but not there. ¬†These are what I’ve come to call “silent characters.”

Silent, but not unnoticed…

Silent characters are those that are there in every scene, making the protagonist choose one pathway over another simply because he or she knows that is what the silent character would want them to do. ¬†Sometimes a character chooses to not do something because the silent character would want that character to do it. ¬†Regardless, the outcome is based on the silent character’s influence even though that character is not physically in the scene.

In Apprentice Cat the main character, Toby, is faced with decision after decision. ¬†(What character isn’t in a good story?) What he chooses to do or not do are often heavily influenced by what his mother would want him to choose. ¬†After the initial chapters in which Toby’s mother is introduced, she is seldom physically in the important scenes that move the story along. ¬†However, she continues to silently shape Toby’s decisions, making her a very important character.

Another character that largely impacts Toby’s decisions is the Big Boss Troublemaker, as Kristen Lamb calls the antagonist. This character appears only in certain scenes and isn’t always easily identifiable as the one causing the plot’s problem, yet this character clearly affects decisions Toby must make.

The not-so-silent problem child…

It’s fascinating to watch a silent character mold a scene. It’s also sometimes troublesome because you may need your protagonist to choose path A, but the pressure your silent character puts on your protag may force him to choose path Z. That can be a good thing, leading to better scenes and higher tension, or it can be a bad thing, in which case you’ll have to reign in that silent character or give your protag a better reason to push that dominant character’s wishes aside. Jami Gold gives some great advice on this in her post How Do You Deal with Difficult Characters?.

How do you use your silent characters to motivate your protagonist? How much control do you have over your characters?