Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lesson 13: Enriching Your Cast

Good Wednesday's hump day, hurray!

Hey...before we get into today's lesson, I'd like to give you a heads-up on an awesome blog called Most Frequent Blogger Questions. I'm tellin' ya' this is the place to go when Blogger makes you wanna' pull your hair out and kick the computer out the nearest window!

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Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. Today's lesson is in Section One: Enriching Your Cast.

Complexity in a novel is a desirable quality. Adding plot layers is one way to do it or enriching your characters is another. But not by adding new characters, but by eliminating them...or more accurately, by combining them.

Step: 1 In two columns, list in two columns...the names of all major, secondary, and minor characters...and the purpose or function of each in the brief in the description, like...supports protagonist, supports antagonist, provides special knowledge.

Step: 2 If you have ten or fewer characters, cross out the name of one. Delete him/her from the story....yea...go it...LOL! If you have ten or more characters, cross out two.

Step: 3 Your cast list is now shorter by one or two, but there remains one or two functions that need to be filled. Assign those functions to one or more of the remaining characters.

Note: Give the people in your novel many roles and your story will be the big beneficiary.

Follow-up: Are there other characters in your novel who can take on multiple roles? Go down the list and note the possibilities, then put them in practice. Find at least two more roles to combine into one.

Conclusion: Were you to complete this exercise. Some authors have great difficulty with it. Most are able to reduce their casts, which makes the remaining ones more interesting. Why? Because not only do they have more to do, but them have become capable of more.

And this joke comes by way of my homegirl Debi Brand

A United States soldier was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, "God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I'll give you exactly 15 minutes."

The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, "Here I am God. I'm still waiting."

It got down to the last couple of minutes when the soldier got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.

The soldier went back to his seat and sat there silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence.

The professor eventually came to, notice ably shaken, looked at the soldier and asked, "What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?"

The soldier calmly replied, "God was too busy today protecting America's soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid crap and act like a butthole. So, He sent me."


  1. Rulan said...
    mmm Food for thought. Thanks Bonnie.
    David Meigs said...
    By the time I have completed the finished draft, I’ve economized everything to the essential meat and bones, so in a sense, I already do this. But, it would be a great exercise to do in the outline stage.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    I just finished this exercise and I offed a character and gave 'his' job to one of the female seconds...hehehe! I guess that's still equal opportunity! LOL!
    Denise McDonald said...
    at least w/ your lessons I realize I was not that far off - I always thought I was winging it and someone would evenutally come along, tap me on the shouler and ask me to leave the play group!
    Bernita said...
    Oh yes, the exercise.
    Don't have many characters to combine.
    Makes me wonder if I need more.
    M. C. Pearson said...
    I'm too chicken...sorry!

    Since mine is a school/military setting...I need minor characters or the reader will think it's an 'Army of One' or something. LOL...inside joke.
    Georgiana Daniels said...
    I don't think I can do it! Great advice, but I'm chicken too. Sigh, maybe tomorrow.
    Live, Love, Laugh said...
    Although I am not writing a novel, I found this interesting, perhaps I will one day!

    The joke was great, I loved it! Hope you have a great day!
    Mindy Tarquini said...
    That's what I've been doing, reducing the cast.

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