Too Many Cooks in Our Stories
The first book I wrote had dozens and dozens of characters. Several Protagonists, for one thing. I had one main Antagonist in the “person” of The Watcher — the character who precedes the Elder God — but he had brought along with him many, many Soul Eaters from Outer Darkness who were his Sidekicks (for want of a better term) and my Protagonists had their own troubles with their own Antagonists and Sidekicks and there was a huge backstory with each and ever character on top of everything else. But wait, maybe the Elder God was the main Antagonist … Or was it the doctor? Maybe the Chief of Police was the Antagonist and the Protagonist really was Rachel Graye after all …
Get my drift?
I was still in the workforce at the time I was writing this opus and going through some work and personal stuff so when I got home from work each day, I would kill off yet another character. So I needed lots of them to do this. I most certainly didn’t need to give them as much of a life (backstory) as my [several] main characters had, but I did!
What did I know? It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a grocery list. Well, to be perfectly honest, anything longer than fourteen-page hand-written love letters to a guy who had said he was separated but as it turned out … Yes. He died in the book, too. Horribly.
I didn’t even have a typewriter until I started writing it. PCs were just slipping over the horizon into our lives and I resented the hell out of PCs. They were what would eventually cause the extinction of my trade.
I hadn’t done enough research on what and what not to use for the genre. Too many cooks, too many characters, too many story threads, too many pages … Not enough experience. I learned an amazing amount about writing when I began studying screenplay writing. These are most of the books I studied and still re-read/re-study/re-underline things in on a regular basis.
Working as an editor for almost eight years (2007–15) was also an eye-opener as far as learning what habits we writers have — every one of us! — that we need to eschew. (My typesetting background provided the necessary qualifications for editing and designing Indie Authors’ books.) I don’t edit anymore — it’s much too time consuming. I have a pile of my own work to do that’s almost as high as this pile in the photo — but I still design. For me, that’s playtime.
Despite the mess of my first novel, I was greatly rewarded for working all the way through it. I’ve been able to get several screenplays (one completed; two in the works, one still in my head) and a couple of short stories out of all these extras. Plus a great little town to set many of my books, screenplays and stories in: Shaw Falls. Oodles of characters that I know intimately and who will come in handy as primary, secondary, or even tertiary people in future works.
Never fret about using too many characters in the first draft. Remove them in the first edit and set them aside for their own stories or novels or screenplays in the future. In fact, never fret about anything in the first draft. Just plug on until you get to the end. Then go back and fix it all. Then fix it again. Use your strays to multiply your books and stories.
Next Post — Leaving Bread Crumbs
Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them: http://www.amazon.com/Really-Stupid-Writing-Mistakes-Avoid/dp/1479308226
… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction): http://www.amazon.com/Death-lAcadie-Kesk8a-Sherrill-Wark/dp/1511501154/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8