Get Rid of Superfluous Characters

people arguingIn his book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell says,

[E]very character in every scene must have an objective, otherwise he shouldn’t be there. Replace him with a chair.

Review your WIP. If you find a character(s) who is superfluous? Do as Bell suggests, rewrite the scene and cut the character.

Now reread the scene. Is it stronger, weaker, mediocre? Revise until you are satisfied. It may mean putting the character back in, but do that only after you’ve determined his/her objective.

Use Art to Spur Your Creativity

fire escapeTake a look at the picture above. What’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Danger? A bygone era? What ever your thought was, the fact is the picture triggered that thought. That is the creativity of your mind in action.

Now think about how you can use what’s in this photo in your work in progress.

  • Can the building serve as a location for one of my scenes? Where is this, what is this, what did it used to be?
  • Can your protagonist elude capture by climbing up the fire escape? Climbing down?
  • Was your antagonist once trapped here as child? If so, how? As a kidnap victim? Was the building on fire? Was she/he homeless?
  • What would your antagonist and protagonist think about this building? Spend 15 minutes writing in your voice journal for each character.
  • How can I use this building to bring conflict to a scene and my characters?

When you’re stuck on a plot point or feel your story is dragging, step away from your writing and visit a local art gallery or do some web surfing to galleries. Use the pictures to inspire you and spur your creativity.

As you meander through the exhibits, ask yourself the questions above and anything else that comes to mind. What is the potential conflict this setting can bring to my story? Even what appears to you as the most tranquil scene can spark conflict in your character if he/she associates that scene with bad experiences.

Be sure to take along a notebook or digital recorder so you can record your thoughts. Who knows, you might even find the gallery you visit to be a perfect scene location.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

 

How Do Plot and Scene Work Together? Series Conclusion

Let’s connect the pieces of plot, scene, and sequel.

Plot at its most basic level is your lead character’s goal and the journey to reach that goal. That journey is played out in the scenes and sequels of your story.

Scenes show the reader the individual steps your character takes to reach his or her goal and the setbacks along the way. Sequels bridge your scenes and present the character’s reaction—emotions and thoughts—to the setbacks, and his or her subsequent decisions and renewed action toward the final goal.

In your WIP, can you identify:

  • The beginning, middle, and end of each scene?
  • How each scene moves your plot forward?
  • Your sequels?
  • How your sequels move your plot forward?

For practice, look for the scenes and sequels in your favorite novels. Does some aspect of your WIP have you stumped? Share below.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

Dealing with Time in Sequels, Part 5 of our series

Unlike the scene, which happens moment by moment, the passage of time in a sequel is flexible. Here you can move quickly through hours or days (even months) in your story. What took 158 words as a scene can be written in much fewer words. I’ll take our last example, a scene, and make it a sequel.

Example: Marta searched her Excel file for the next group of potential investors to contact. She made phone call after phone call as she identified names, her temper rising with every conversation. Ten calls, and ten “no’s.” The clock on the wall read 3:30. She shut down her laptop, stuffed it into her briefcase, and tromped out of the office. She’d start again tomorrow.

I have sufficiently covered several hours in her day vs. the few minutes of one phone call I used in a scene. We see her emotional and mental state, and her decision and action (all the elements of sequel).

Questions? Ask below in the comment section.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

Dealing with Time in Scenes, Part 4 of our series

Time is a story element with which many beginning writers struggle. Whether your novel occurs over a period of days or years, you must lead us through that time.

In scenes, time passes moment by moment. This means we see the action as it happens. Let’s pick up the action where Friday’s sequel left off (Marta had reached for the phone).

Example: Marta flipped open her cell phone and punched in the number for Sam Casey, regional manager for Robbins Bookstores. Her fingers drummed the desk as waited for someone to answer the phone.

“Robbins Bookstore Inc. How may I help you?” the receptionist answered.

“This is Marta Chaplin of Chaplin Real Estate. I’d like to speak with Mr. Casey.” Marta tried to sound as official and confident despite her nervousness.

“Mr. Casey isn’t available. Would you like it voicemail?”

“Yes, please.” Marta sat straight her office chair as she listened to the brief voicemail message. “Mr. Casey, this is Marta Chaplin of Chaplin Real Estate in Classic, Oklahoma. I’d like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss a proposed strip mall to go up here in Classic.” Marta rattled off her phone number and ended the call. With a sigh of disgust, she tossed her cell phone on the desk and returned to her Excel file of investors.

As they read, readers will fill in all the little details of making a phone call—punching in the numbers, hearing the phone ring, speaking with the receptionist, closing the cell phone and tossing it down, the phone likely sliding on the desk, and Marta physically turning to her computer. They may even imagine her fingers poised over the keyboard.

Scenes occur in real time, but it would be excruciating if we were to relate every action and every second. We don’t need to state “Marta punched the five button on her phone, then a three, then another three…” Readers can and will fill in action you do not specifically show.

Next time, we’ll look at dealing with time in sequels.

Friday’s offer, posted Feb. 1 at the end of the post, will remain open until this Friday, Feb. 8, at which time comments will be closed and the offer ends.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

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