A couple weeks ago, I lent my husband one of the adult science fiction books I read last month. To my delight, he enjoyed it as much as I did.
“It had a lot of characters,” he said, “which usually frustrates me, but the author did a great job of introducing only one at a time. That made it easy for me to get to know them and keep them straight.”
Then he gave me the look.
And I sank down in my chair.
‘Cause I know I have a problem. I’m a New Character Addict. Why bring in one new character when I can have three? Or five? It’s a problem that runs rampant through all my first drafts, and it’s definitely attributable to my being a pantster at heart. (I bet people who outline don’t have this problem.) But when you’re making up the story as you go, with only the barest glimpse of your target ending, a lot of unexpected and uninvited characters turn up along the way.
Some of them end up being important — maybe even show-stoppers — so it’s essential that I let this process run its course, even if it’s frustrating to my CPs. I try not to worry because I know in later drafts I’ll put on my Grim Reaper robe, get out my scythe, and start slashing characters.
Sometimes, I see the solution even earlier than that. For instance, last week I wrote a chapter in which three new characters appeared – a mother and daughter we’d heard about before – and a scientist. It occurred to me afterward that if the mother was also the scientist, three characters could be reduced to two. Now that I’ve seen the solution, it’s hard for me to go on writing this soon-to-be-merged-with-another-character scientist, but I feel compelled to do so for my own first-drafting brain, as well as the sanity of my CPs. He’s doomed, but he’s part of the first draft.
What sins do YOU commit in your first drafts?
Yes, I definitely committed the sin of introducing too many characters at one time. That is a great point your husband makes about introducing them separately.
Well, as on of your CPs, I can assure you my sanity is just fine – so as long as I get another chapter to read soon!
Besides, I know you’ll make everything better in draft #2 🙂
Maybe it is because I’m an avid outliner that I don’t have huge casts. They tend to be rather small.
Hi Dianne … just me and not writing a book – makes life easy – til I tip myself over the edge and get writing!
Good luck and cheers to all those characters … especially the ones you’ll let go … take care and enjoy your process – Hilary
My first drafts always have a beginning that doesn’t match the end. I’ll come up with something voicey and cute, write the rest, and then realize that while it is cute, it doesn’t work. So I have to rewrite my beginnings AT LEAST five times. Every time. And it’s usually the first 3-5 chapters or so. Sigh. I think I’d rather have too many characters 😉
A character addict! I love that, and you’re right. Why have two when twenty is possible.
I’m a pantser like you, but I definitely find myself reeling myself in…trying to figure out, “How can I use an existing character for this?” I mean, we all know that our characters probably know a LOT of people, especially if they’re in a school setting. But yeah, I do get confused if there are too many characters. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter that you keep them apart, though–if it’s the main character’s group of friends and there are five or six, often I never even bother to commit the secondary characters to memory. (You wrote a series–that brings a whole other reason to introduce a lot of secondaries.)
Love the image of scything a character…although that does sound a bit violent, I guess. I tend to do a character run-down in the first chapter and have to go back and shove half of them away into later chapters or just slash them. You never know when those extra characters might sneak it though.
I was recently criticized by an agent for not having enough characters in mine! That astounded me, since I had an entire tour group and thought it might have been a little much.
It all goes to show…there’s something for everyone. 🙂
Sins? I very rarely stay in reality, and never do research. You can imagine what that does to my CPs. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
Gosh, I hear you about characters. I call it The Dickens Infection. =) Regardless, you have to follow your process and weed out the trouble in the editing. Have to. What if you were to chop someone who changed the entire story just because there were too many characters?
I underdevelop everything in the first draft.
I tend to have too few characters, so I’m always looking to add a few more just to make the world seem more real to readers. Maybe yo can give me some of yours.
My biggest problem with writing a first draft is a failure to keep moving forward. I’m forever going back, re-reading, and re-writing, rather than damning the details and moving full speed ahead. It seems the continual forward momentum would be much more effective.
When a book introduces too many characters, it can be a little confusing, but it reeeeeally bugs me when their names are too similar.
As a plotter, no, I don’t have this problem. 😛 I tend to figure out main characters as I’m putting things together and add minor ones as the story needs. I hear you on combining characters, though – I’ve done that before and it helps a lot. However, my minor characters don’t always remain minor ones. Many years ago, I had a minor character shove her way into the story as a major character, completely against what passed for my plans at the time, and I’m still writing stories with her in them. Oi.