Friday, November 10, 2006

Don't Steal My Thunder!

We’ve all been witnesses to this crime. That instant when you’re cruising along, then BAM!, a secondary character takes over the show. Out of the blue you’ve been blindsided by this person who is totally charming, relatable, and utterly attention getting to the point of eclipsing the hero and/or heroine.

And that is often times a problem. Anytime part of your main duo loses the reader’s focus is usually a no-no, because if the reader is bonding with someone else, they’re not paying the hero and heroine a lick of attention. Which means they’ve derailed from your plotline and their imagination is saying, “I wonder what happened to [fill in the blank].”

This constitutes the rub. What if you need a cast of characters, call them a family if you will, to flesh out your masterpiece? Sure you can whittle down Aunt Jane and Uncle John Doe to the bare essentials, but Cousin Eric doesn’t want to behave at the reunion. And you kind of like where he’s coming from, though you can’t have him lording himself over everyone. Yet you can’t finagle him into a caricature (or a stereotype) as extra page filler for comic relief, because that would be a waste of a good thing.

The solution? Make your charismatic character integral to the plot, but insert him/her sparingly like strong herbs. That way the reader has to pay attention to the character, possibly even bond with them, but there’s never enough to do more than wet the reader’s appetite. Which can set up a follow-up book, especially if your readers’ lament to the publishing house adamantly enough.

This is exactly what prompted me to brainstorm books for all the Shandar children. In TIES OF VALOR, we meet Awyn, the Prince Regent who can’t assume the throne because of a societal shift. But the nagging question of what would happen to the heir apparent, his sister Anida who’d fallen in love with an off-worlder, hadn’t been shown. Which meant another book. And everyone who’s read the manuscript loved their younger brother Talis, who was outgoing and carefree. (Dare I mention Cousin Eric?) So I knew everyone would want to hear his playboyish tales. That left the middle son, Oron, who never ventured out from his lab in TIES OF VALOR. Though the storyline makes one wonder, just what was he up too with CHIRI, the sentient computer, behind closed doors?

As if I hadn’t learned better (or gotten tired from the neverending story told through several characters) the same thing happened in JUST ONE LIFE. Though in my defense, it’s basic lore that magical power is greater with a trinity of three. My heroine had enough on her plate with dying and being reborn as a cat, so I had my hero stumble across a shapeshifter while browsing in a local bookstore. From that moment, Kass (who was inspired by Ty Pennington) leapt from the page ready to overshadow Kendron, who at first glance seems like a stick-in-the-mud. But I invented a way for him to relate differently to both the hero and heroine, while not inundating the reader with his enthusiasm. To Gwynan he represents a man who tried to save her in ancient France, and Kendron has him cowed to understudy by the star-power of his lineage.

Though I can’t count the number of contest judges who’ve said WE LOVE KASS!, as of yet he doesn’t have a story. I haven’t found the right girl…make that woman, since he needs someone to tamp his spirits down. Lord knows his coven of male buddies would only egg him on if left to their own devices! But they’ve learned an important lesson. If you have a jester who can’t wait to take center stage, wrestle him to the ground, sit on him, and when the time is right let him shine.

Do you have a character whose mouth you'd like to duck tape shut? Or perhaps you've read about one that you wish had a book of his/her own?


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

If you write anything close to sci-fi or fantasy, I think you unconsciously plan for sequels. It's in the blood. I'm the Queen of Sequels. Even my stand alones end up with sequels. For my novel "Immorati" I knew I had to have a second book to give the police chief..Karl...totally hot and handsome, who does not get the girl, his own happy ending. Plus, I thought I should show more about the culture of the Jersey Devil. So...a sequel was born. This one called, "Corpesetti." My novel, "By A Silken Thread" ended up spawning two more books, "Man of Uncertain Virtue," and "Charlatan." - I don't know why I get really frustrated if a character is left dangling on the breeze without a happy ending. I think the only book I've written that won't have a sequel is "Idolatry." The other love interests in that book that I could have pulled out and made into a sequel, I used as a subplot instead. I think it works, and those who have read it think so too.


Xandra Gregory said...

My novella just out from LSB had a similar problem - Max, my scruff-dawg of a pilot, just wouldn't be content to wisecrack and play chauffeur. I gave him his lead and discovered he wanted in on the action. And since I write erotic romance, my other characters were much happier now that I'd figured out the messages they'd been sending.