It occurred to me that I should be more specific about what part of the novel writing process we're in right now.
We've spent the last couple weeks talking about our main character. This is a part of the process I refer to as composting. Which is a term I stole from my writer friend, Erica Vetsch, and which I'm pretty sure she stole from Randy Ingermanson, aka The Snowflake Guy. I don't know if Randy's the originator or not.
Regardless, composting is that time when the story is starting to gel in your head, when you're working out who these people are and what's going to happen to them.
I think composting is one of my favorite parts of the process ... but I'll likely say that about everything on here. I like all of it.
Let's talk for a bit about secondary characters.
How many characters are too many? Too few? There's no industry standard for this. It's just a feel. And sometimes you "feel" wrong. (When my original agent read Me, Just Different, the first thing she said was "lose one of the friends. I can't keep them all straight." I didn't tell her I'd already cut three from my cast.)
Here are some good traits of secondary characters:
- They have potential to create friction for your main character, to complicate things.
- They've got a life of their own going on.
- They disagree with decisions your MC (main character) is making, or your MC disagrees with them. Or both.
The easiest way to do this is to give your secondary characters stories of their own. We talked about your main character needing to change, finding extraordinary qualities, and digging out personality facets. Try doing the same for your secondary characters, developing subplots for them. This is especially important if you plan on telling scenes from their POV. If you're talking in someone's voice, they better have a life of their own going on, or your reader will lose interest fast.
As you think through your secondary characters, ask yourself Is this person necessary, or can I combine them with someone else? In real life, we know tons and tons of people, but it's impossible to write a novel like that without confusing the reader. So while it's true that in high school I hung out with about 10 girls, in a book I would condense it to three. While you might go to Starbucks with a friend of yours and become chummy with the barista, in a book, you should consider making that barista someone. A friend's boyfriend. Your MC's nemesis. Whatever.
One last thing before I close this out - there were 31 entries to January 17th's writing prompt. Which is amazing. I sent everything to the judges yesterday and hope to e-mail the winners next Monday.