Minor Characters

Recently, in the circles that I’m in, more and more people are asking what to do about minor characters. They want to flush them out, give them their own backstory, their own story, understand their background, and everything that makes them tick, but should they do that? How much attention should we give our minor characters? To address this, let’s look at real life.

There are people you encounter every day that you know nothing about. You go to the gas station, fuel up, go inside to get a snack, and the only words exchanged between you and the cashier are:

“Hello, how are you today?”

“I’m great, thanks.”

“Your total will be $5.98.” A pause as the cashier accepts the cash from you, and then she smiles at you and hands you your purchased item. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Thanks. You too.” And you leave.

Now, you know nothing about that girl. You don’t know how old she is, if she’s in high school or college, if she’s married or single or has any kids. You don’t know what her talents are, her skills are, or her dreams. You know absolutely nothing, but you’re okay with that. Why? Because you have someplace to be, and getting stuck in a conversation may distract you from what you have to do.

So having characters you know nothing about is fine in a story. Now, another instance of minor characters would be those people you run into on occasion. You’ve seen them enough times you might know their names and greet them. For instance, my mother and I used to go to the park and walk every morning, and at the same time there was this older couple also walking the trail. Their names were Vic and Sid. We knew nothing more of each other except for our names, and we’d greet each other warmly each time we saw one another:

“Hey! How are you? Been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“Yeah, been busy—family stuff, but it’s nice to be back.”

“It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.” And we’d just keep walking, minding our own business.

Another way we may encounter minor characters in real life may be those people we see on a regular basis and may or may not recall the person’s name, but we have a fair idea of what their personality is like and maybe even their dreams. However, they like to talk with you at the most inopportune times, and you never really want to get too drawn into a conversation. An example of this is a cashier at Wal-Mart who has checked out your items on a regular basis. You can’t recall her name, so you have to keep looking at her tag, which reads ‘Jenny’. She remembers you though even if she doesn’t recall your name. You’re the person who’s published a book. In her eyes, you’re famous, and she likes talking with you in a loud voice. She tries to be nonchalant about your accomplishments, and every time she sees you, she tells you about her plans of making a movie. You encourage her, but really, standing in line at the cashier in Wal-Mart is not the best place for this conversation since there are other people in line waiting for their items to be checked through. However, you never see her outside of Wal-Mart, and every time you talk with her, she keeps saying the same thing, and it’s like she never takes any steps toward fulfilling her dreams. You don’t really have time to invest in this person, but you try to be nice.

Now all these are minor characters you may meet in real life. In stories, your characters will encounter similar characters, and you don’t have to flush them out thoroughly. Giving them a personality is always good, and sometimes minor characters will surprise you by actually contributing majorly to the story in ways you never expected, and that’s all right.

The main thing to keep in mind is, “Is this minor character important to the story? Does this character contribute to the story? Do they contribute in a small way or in a big way?” If it’s a small way, you don’t have to develop them too much. Yes, you as the author might know their entire life story and all their hopes and dreams, but that might not be important to the story you’re writing. It’d be very confusing if you have a story about someone who’s on the run from the law, and he checks into this motel where there’s this guy behind the counter who’s dream is to become a cowboy, and suddenly the story shifts to trying to let him accomplish his dream. Sure, there are ways of making the work, but what about the guy who’s on the run?

You’re not obligated it give every character major screen time. In someone else’s life, you are a minor character, someone who they merely passed by on the sidewalk. Yes, you have a lot of depth, huge dreams, and your own bag of troubles, but to that individual whose life you don’t impact, you’re just another face, and that’s okay.

So, when you’re writing a story, if you don’t know how much you should develop a minor character, look at the story, ask how important the character is to the story and how much they contribute to it. Go ahead and give them some personality or quirk to make them memorable to the reader, but then move on. You could have a memorable minor character, and this could be someone that you decide to come back to later and write his own story, but for the time being, don’t overwhelm your book with too many characters.

The Benefits of Writing Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a controversial topic. Some people say are totally against it while others are absolutely for it. Let’s first identify what fan fiction is.

When someone creates a piece of fiction, if a person takes that work and writes something based off it (keeping the names of characters, locations, and events), this is fan fiction. It could be set in an AU (Alternative Universe, which means the events of the canon story either didn’t take place or had different outcomes), and it could include OC (Original Characters—creations of the fan fiction author). These stories are written in the universe of the original story. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you wished Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padme got married instead, that would be a fan fiction story in the Star Wars universe. If you wanted to find out what was meant when Black Widow said, “It’s like Budapest all over again,” and Hawkeye responded, “You and I remember Budapest very differently,” you could write an Avenger fan fic based on that to explore it.

What’s the catch? You cannot sell this work or attempt to profit off of it. Since you do not own the rights of the original story, you can’t do that. However, you can post it on sites like www.fanfiction.net or so forth. When you do this, fans of the original story will see it, read it, and likely comment. This feedback is useful for your journey into becoming a writer and helps you hone your skills.

One of the issues about writing your own original story as the first full-length novel you ever write is you may not know how to develop characters well, you might not have a full handle on description or scene setting or dialogue, and on top of that you have to create an entire world. If you’ve never done that before, it can be daunting. This makes writing your own novel all the more difficult.

If you write fan fiction first, you don’t have to worry about creating whole new worlds or characters. It’s like a pre-set story for you to just fill in the blank and twist however you want. You already know the characters because of the story/book/film/show, and you can readily imagine them in your mind. You already have an understanding of their world, so it’s easy to grasp. You won’t have to worry about all those fundamentals of a story while you’re trying to learn your own writing style. The foundation is already there. All you need to worry about is perfecting the specific elements (character development, dialogue, description, plot structure, etc).

The more you write, the more you’ll start flexing your writing muscles. It’ll likely start with you taking the characters to unfamiliar places, and this gives you the chance to create an original setting in a safe environment. As this becomes easy, you begin introducing more major original characters into the cast. Eventually those original characters completely replace the fan fiction characters, and as you add more twists and turns and get further and further from the original source of the story, you’ll realize you have something that’s totally different from the original story. This is where you can begin writing your own original story.

When this happens, you won’t be so stressed out about all the different elements of writing because you already have a good handle on them. Instead, you can press on and write your own original piece of fiction, and you have a good chance of publishing it.

Consider fan fiction the playground or training arena for writing. You can’t sell the work, so you don’t have to worry about promoting it. Instead, you are writing it for you (and maybe a few fans you pick up along the way). You are growing as a writer, and you learn so many lessons in a safe environment. Once you start breaking the mold and flexing your writing muscles as creating your own worlds, the world becomes a scary place, but you’re ready for it.

This is why I recommend writing fan fiction if you’re a beginning writer. Of course, some people may view it a waste of time, and I understand that. However, if you’re struggling with writing, writing fan fiction is an option you have and should consider.

Inspiration, Motivation, and Determination

The funny thing is as I write this I personally lack the inspiration and motivation to do write this post, but I am absolutely determined to get it written, and therefore words are being written. In other words, no one is immune from what I’m about to say in this post.

It is commonly said you must be inspired to write, but then that is debunked by the claim that you don’t need inspiration as long as you have the motivation to write.

Want to know the truth?

Some days you just lack both inspiration and motivation to write anything, and the only thing that will make you write is your pure determination to write. Some people have the determination to write every day. Others have already resolved to complete this chapter or that scene this day, and some people are just plain stubborn and absolutely set on writing something during the day.

When you write, you might not like what you’ve written. You might write something else and also not like that, and then you write something else again, and still not like what you’ve written, and you feel like giving up, but don’t. By simply writing, you’ve accomplished a lot more than those who simply don’t write at all. Yes, sometimes you have to write a whole bunch of what you may think is junk, but here could a gem in the midst of all that which you can only uncover if you write everything else. That gem is then used for inspiration and gives you the motivation to write more, and next thing you know, you are thrilled about what you are writing.

Of course it’s not that simple. There are a whole bunch of factors in life that like to complicate everything, so lets break things down and discuss inspiration, motivation, and determination individually.

Now we’ve already discussed determination a bit, but let me say it simply: determination is your will to write regardless of how you’re feeling and what you encounter during the day. It may be 11:45PM and you still haven’t written, and determination is writing something before 12AM just so in your own mind you can tell yourself you’ve achieved a goal you set yourself, and you can be proud of that.

Motivation is closely linked to determination. This is because your determination is your motive to write. When you are resolved to do something, you set goals, you make a plan, and you can see the end in sight. All you have to do is do the hard work to reach it, and that is where motivation comes in. Determination is the light at the end of the tunnel. Motivation is the train on the tracks heading for that light.

It is so much easier to have motivation when it’s linked with determination as well. Imagine not having a goal in sight, and the only thing you have in your mind is, “Well, I’m a writer, so I know I should write, but…” And you can fill in the blank.

Now sometimes, you have to write even when you’re not motivated to write. This simply means you really don’t feel like writing, and you can think of so many other ways to spend your time, but no, that’s when determination will strap you to the chair and refuse to release you until you’ve done what you set out to do. It’s not easy to sit down and begin typing when you lack motivation, but as you write, you may find that motivation just comes—or maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction in knowing you’ve written something.

Now let’s discuss inspiration. Inspiration is like the Holy Grail for writers. It often comes when it’s not summoned or expected, yet it demands you drop everything you’re doing (regardless of the time or place) to write. When inspiration hits you, it’s like being struck by literary lightning where you must jolt down everything lest you forget it. However, just as lightning is largely unpredictable and cannot be harvested, so you cannot rest all your dreams of becoming a writer on inspiration. When inspiration comes, USE IT, but don’t depend on it. Like determination, inspiration can produce motivation, but unlike determination, inspiration is undependable. It’s like that friend who never announces when he’s going to stop by for a visit and just shows up at your front door one day, but you don’t mind because this friend is awesome! However, just as abruptly and without forewarning, he has to leave, and nothing you say can or will make him stay, but you’re not worried. You know he’ll be back—eventually. In the meanwhile, you’re stuck with your roommate Determination, and that’s okay. At least he’s dependable.

In other words, while inspiration can motivate you to write, you cannot count on inspiration and depend on it to motivate you because you have no idea when it will strike. You can’t conjure inspiration because then it wouldn’t be inspiration, and you can’t trick yourself into believing that it is. However, you can rely on determination to motivate you to write since that is totally depended on you and whether you will to write.

Co-Writing

Co-writing—there are numerous of ways to co-write a story. Some people co-write by swapping chapters while others take turned of one person writing one page and the other person writes the next page, or maybe both writers have a their own main characters and write from their POV’s. I cannot list all the different ways you can co-write because I simply don’t know all of them. However, in this post, I’m going to focus on the co-writing style I have found works best for me and is extremely easy for anyone to do, and this style is Roleplaying Co-Writing.

With Roleplaying Co-Writing, each author gets a set of characters—usually one main character for each writer, and then choose the supporting characters. While it is possible to share a character, it’s simply easier and less stressful if one writer to have possession of the character rather than being concerned with the other writer writing the character wrong.

Once the characters have been spread out evenly between the two writers, you then put the characters in a scenario, and each writer writes the dialogue and action of their own character. This is where the fun begins. Although you know what must happen in the scene, you don’t know how it happens, but you let the characters be themselves while you slowly steer them in the direction of the purpose of the scene. What exactly is exchanged and occurs in these scenes are completely unpredictable, and sometimes it can change the entire course of the story, but that is where the fun lies. Here’s an example I co-wrote with Nan Sampson Bach. She wrote Juan’s character while I wrote Julianne. The bold are hers. The italics are mine (Note: this is the actual raw version of this scene prior to smoothing out the two styles of writing with any editing):

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When he stood, he leaned heavily on her, but Julianne didn’t mind. She just looked up at him concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Estoy bien. Sólo necesito un poco de agua.” He shook his head, tried again. Was he slurring his words or was the spinning room now affecting his ears? “I meant to say, I am fine. I just need a little water, that is all.” He tried to push away from her but stumbled and went down on his knees. “Maldición!” God help him, it had never been this bad before. He needed his Gate. He needed to tap into the energy there. He sensed Julianne next to him, trying to help him up and his face burned with shame. He pushed at her feebly, but he had no strength left. “Leave me, Dona. Por favor. You do not need to see this.”

But Julianne insisted. “What is wrong? What do you need? Tell me!” Her heart raced with sudden fear because she sensed this wasn’t simply exhaustion.

His vision was graying. “I need the Gate. I need to make a sacrifice to the Gate. For the energy.” He tried to focus on her face, tried to smile. “I have used it too much, spent too much. It is like a drug, Dona Julianne. It takes its toll.” He shook his head. “You should go. Fetch your Mage Prince. He must know what I know of The First. If I am unable to do this thing, then he must.”

Sasha’s words spun round in his head as he collapsed onto the floor. “The more you use it, the more you need it, Juan-Carlos. And the more you need it, the more it sucks the life out of you.” And then the crafty Macedonian laughed.

Julianne realized he needed power. She had forgotten the magic of the Gate had sustained him, and she sat back briefly before thinning her lips and coming to a decision. “You need power. Does it have to be from the Gate?”

She was speaking, but he was having trouble understanding the words. If only she would speak in Spanish. Damn the English – how had they managed to take over the world?

Julianne decided not to wait for an answer. She was the creator of this realm, and in that way, she was the most powerful person present. Taking a deep breath, Julianne turned him over, so he was lying on his back. She hesitated but then bent over and kissed him.

However, it wasn’t a simple kiss. As soon as their lips touched, Julianne reached onto his mind and the close connection they had, and she poured as much power into him as she could. She sensed his strength returning.

After a moment, she finally pulled back and winced, bringing a hand to her head. “Ow—why didn’t anyone ever say those fairytale kisses leave people with headaches?”

It took him a moment to process what had happened. “What… what did you do?” He assessed himself, found his energy had returned, almost at full force. It was not the same sort of juiced up buzz he used to get from a sacrifice to the Gate, but he felt refreshed and the weakness and exhaustion that had plagued him for months was gone.

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As you can see, this style is almost as if co-writing paragraph-by-paragraph, but it’s not quite. Sometimes one writer will write multiple paragraphs to show different thoughts and actions of their characters.

What did we use to write back and forth? Some people use Google Docs, but my preferred means are Facebook Messenger or email, and then I copy and paste what we’ve written into a document. It’s simple, consistent, and readily available.

So this is the basic idea of Roleplaying Co-Writing, but there is a lot of work that must be put into it in order for it to work. You can’t just randomly start co-writing with someone and expect a full-fledged story to emerge…okay, so you can actually do that, and a story will begin to form, but there comes a time where you need to pause and communicate with each other where the story should go. Here are a few things you need to know prior to actually co-writing with someone:

  1. Do you two have similar writing styles?
  2. What are the areas where you are weak but they are strong and vica versa? (are they better at writing fight scenes than you? Are you better at describing a medieval setting than them? Etc.)
  3. Are you both confident in your writing abilities and willing to improvise at a moment’s notice? (if one person is unwilling to allow their character to make a mistake or get hurt, it will be difficult to co-write with such a person.)
  4. Can you communicate well with your co-writer?
  5. Can you be completely honest with them? (if the two main characters are supposed to fall in love, but you feel your co-writer’s MMC is too wooden, your FMC won’t fall for him. So either change the story or delve into the wooden character to uncover unspeakable depths. The two co-writers must be completely honest and willing to work with each other, untangle any complications for the success of the story.)
  6. Determine and agree on goals for the story (Are you writing just for fun or to explore a different genre of writing? Are you hoping to publish the story one day?)

Now, before you begin writing, it is highly recommended the two of you outline the story. It could be a rough outline or a very detailed outline—whatever you want, but the point of this is agreeing on the events and direction of the story. If you can’t agree on that, you will spend a lot of time arguing and not writing. One of you may be more prone to outlining, so let that person pull together the actual outline, but brainstorm it together!

Remember, the outline is only a guide. If you follow it perfectly, fantastic, but rarely does writing ever go exactly how we planned, so you need to improvise and work with what is handed to you. ALWAYS COMMUNICATE. If a story is moving off track from the outline, communicate with the co-writer, bring it to their attention, discuss if you should stay on the outline or not, and if you opt not to stay on the outline, explore the possibilities of the future of this new direction. Once you’ve written an outline, this does not mean you’re locked into it. Stories have minds of their own and will unfold exactly how they want to or else they will give you Writer’s Block.

Now, one thing you should know prior to committing to co-writing using this style is that it is very addictive. You can literally write all day—and still get other stuff done although you might get irritated when there’s an interruption in your life that prevents you from reading what your co-writer sent to you. I co-write a lot on my phone. I go about my day, doing my usual work, then play fetch with my dog, wash the dishes, cook a meal or bake cookies, and converse with people, but then my phone chimes with a reply, and I look at the message, type a reply, and send it, and then I resume whatever work I was doing. It is incredibly fun—too much fun sometimes that it can actually become stressful because all you want to do is write! A solution? Set aside a time of day (an hour or two) when your co-writer and you will write. That way writing won’t get in the way of your real life, and your real life won’t get in the way of your writing.

Does this mean you can’t work on the story throughout the day until that set time? No. If there is a scene approaching where the only characters involved are characters you write, that is called a solo scene, and you may write it whenever you want. It’s good to write it ahead of time, so when the story finally gets to that point, your co-writer isn’t waiting around for you to write that scene. Rather, you can just send it to them once you’ve reached that point, and the two of you can progress to the next scene which you must write together.

So, this is merely one way co-writing. It is incredibly fun. To quote Nan Sampson Bach, whom I’ve been co-writing with recently: Co-writing is an absolute blast. You get a terrific feedback loop, that keeps the energy and interest high, and the level of spontaneity makes the writing feel real. It’s highly addictive.” So if you’re interesting in co-writing and just aren’t sure how to approach it, I highly recommend the Roleplaying Co-Writing style. Once you get a hang of it, you’ll have a blast. Hope you the best!

Interactive Interviews VS Traditional Interviews

Several weeks ago, I introduced a new style of author and character interviews—the Interactive Author Interview and the Interactive Character Interview. In this new style, I do away with the traditional list of questions but instead invite the author into a fictional setting for a comfortable, friendly chat. In the character interview, the author takes us into his world for the interview, and we get to meet and observe the character being interviewed in his own environment. This style makes both the author and the character more real, and here are a few things people said about their experience being interview this way:

I’ve never been a fan of interviews, but once I was warmed up in towards the beginning of Kelly’s interview, I had a blast!” Ted Covey

It was a pleasure to have gone through the process with Kelly…If one has the opportunity, I would strongly recommend other authors set up time to be interviewed by her.”Daryl Ball

Kelly Blanchard’s story style interviews are no end of fun and fascination.”Ryan T. Nelson

Interview with Kelly Blanchard is set apart because interacting with her didn’t feel one bit like I was answering a staid questionnaire.” Vibhuti Bhandarkar

Kelly’s author interviews are a fascinating experience for any author.”Valerie Seimas

And there is much more authors have said about the experience, but I realized there was one other group of people whose opinion of these interviews are vital—the readers. While this style of interviews solves many problems with the standard author and character interviews and thus making the process all the more enjoyable, what would the readers think? So I asked for volunteers.

I took an author I hadn’t interviewed yet—Ronnie Virdi, author of ‘Grave Beginnings‘. I interviewed him with both styles of author interviews then used both styles of character interviews with his character. Then I presented both sets of interviews to 23 volunteer of readers, and I asked them which style they preferred and why. Here are the results:

  • 17 people voted the Interactive Interviews for both the author and character interviews.
  • 6 people voted the Traditional InterviewsOf those 6 people:
    • 2 were leaning towards the Interactive Interview for the author interview
    • 4 voted Traditional Interview for the author interview, but they chose Interactive Interview for the character interview.
  • Out of 23 people, 21 people voted Interactive Interviews for the character interviews.
  • Only 2 people voted for the Traditional Interviews for both author interview & character interview.

To view that as percentages, it would look like this:

Kelly_pies

Here is what readers said about their experience reading these interviews:

I like the interactive style better. Nothing draws another writer in more than a story, and it gives you more to think about than a bulleted list of questions.”Kelly Blechertas

The interactive one gives a lot more feel for the author as a person. It feels like a more intimate and friendly exchange, and it gives me a sense of their potential writing voice.”Megan Reed

I enjoyed the interactive interview more. The regular interview was informative but felt like I was reading it in a magazine or watching it on TV; whereas the interactive engaged not only my intellectual side, but spoke to that part of me that gets lost in stories.”G. Scot Phillips

Interactive interview by far, most prominently for the fact that once he gets into the world, it is easier to phrase the answers in his own comfortable way, complete with mood defining subtext. The whole mechanism is comfy.”Jack Frost

The traditional interview felt all clinical, I don’t really like those. I read interviews to “meet” people. I definitely liked the interactive better because it felt more like meeting a person.”Adrienne Devine

Now, not everyone liked the Interactive, and here are some reasonings of those who preferred the traditional:

I prefer the traditional question and answer. In the interactive one, I find myself searching for the questions and answers, ignoring the rest.”Kim Hutchinson Halcomb

The traditional one. It could be that its just what I’m used to, but I had a hard time paying attention kinda in the interactive one.”Sara Lucinda

If I’m being honest, I am partial to the traditional. I’m not really sure why. There’s nothing wrong with the interactive, it’s fun and engaging, but I think I just prefer the more traditional interview.” Sabrina Danielle

I guess it would depend on WHY I was reading the interview. I definitely felt like I learned more about Ronnie’s writing from the traditional interview though I may have gotten a better sense of who he was from the interactive.” Valerie Seimas

Depends upon my mood honestly. To read the interactive one – the one set like a story – I have to be in the mood and prepared for it. Knowing what style/what to expect, there will be times where I am more receptive to it. If I were to just be gleaming for information, I like the style of the traditional one.” Jennifer Ruvalcaba

So, what is the verdict? Among authors and readers, the Interactive Interviews are largely popular, but there is still a place for the Traditional Interviews. The traditional style interviews are readily available to anyone who wants to conduct interviews. Sample questions are just a Google search away. However, the Interactive approach is much more involved and time-consuming to conduct because each experience is tailored to each author, but it is an option for those who just want to have a more fun interviewing experience. 

To read some Interactive Interviews, you may find them on my other blog, “Meeting with the Muse“. If you’ve published a book and would like me to interview you using this interactive style of interviews, and if you would like the interviews to be promoted on my site, leave a comment, and I’ll be in touch with you.

Grace Snoke’s Character Interview Review

This week I am currently running a survey based on readers’ preferences regarding which form of author/character interview they preferred–traditional or my more interactive style. Next week I plan to publish the results of that survey here, but in the meanwhile, one of my interviewees, Grace Snoke, blogged about her experience with the Character Interview, and she gave me permission to share it here. Be sure to read about her experience with the Author Interview.

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(Originally published on Grace Snoke’s blog here: Character Interview with Kelly Blanchard)

A two part interview process, last week I reviewed the author interview Kelly had with me two weeks ago. This week I follow that up with a review of my character interview with her.

Much like the first interview, it’s much like writing a story together, except instead of her setting the scene for it, I set the scene of it, taking on the role of my previously un-named pseudo-antagonist. He’s sort of an antagonist but as the story goes, we’ll quickly learn he’s not the real antagonist – that wasn’t revealed to me until I did the interview with Kelly.

The character, named Marcus Diehl, is an entertainment lawyer who is also a werewolf. Marcus has been a thorn in my side for a while, not really telling me much about himself and I used this interview to help figure out the details by, literally, taking him on as a role and answering the questions she had as him.

In doing this, the character opened up and let me – and her – know a lot more about him than I had previously known.

Outside of the first chapter and preview of my book and me letting her know that he was the antagonist (sorta-antagonist), she knew relatively nothing about the character and this allowed her to ask questions that made me think and figure out the answers about him (or made him reveal them to me).  I’m often of the opinion that my characters write themselves – they often do – just sometimes they need outside help to make it happen.

I have to say I was very pleased with the interview and it has helped me move forward and add chapters into my book now that I know what is going on a bit better.

For examples of other character interviews, check these out:

My interview won’t be available until sometime in January.

Kelly is offering character interviews outside of these that she’s currently doing for $25 an hour of $50 for two hours. If you have a character that just isn’t talking to you, I suggest looking into her offer. It will be money well spent.