How a Minor Character can Make or Break your Plot

Sep 15, 2010

I'm getting so close to completing the first draft of Devs. Like, within 15,000 words-ish. Last week, I was sure I'd have it done by the end of this week. And then, something happened. You know when you're writing a scene you know is crap, but you just don't know what else to write? Yeah, that's what happened.


So I stopped for a few days, trying to figure out what wasn't working in that scene. I realized it actually wasn't that scene that was the problem-- it was one in the previous chapter. One where a minor character suddenly became incredibly important without me even realizing it. His actions would drive a good deal of what happened next, and his actions in that scene were...well...stupid.

After a while, I figured out what the core of the problem was: I had no idea who this character was.

He was a minor character, so I hadn't bothered to do much in the way of characterization. I usually fill out a big long document about my characters before I start writing, so I have an idea of who they are. This guy had no dossier. And while he's a minor character, he's a very important minor character. So I went in, figured out everything about him, and was shocked. He was a heck of a lot cooler than I'd realized!

Then I went in and pack-ratted two whole scenes. Out they went, and that problem scene got rewritten. Because now I knew who this guy was. I knew what he would do. And it causes major problems for my protagonist. Which is awesome, because now I know how the book is going to end!

So, my friends, the question is: have you had situations where a problem with a character created a problem in your plot? How did you fix it? Let's discuss!

17 comments:

Bekah said...

Oh, I know how that is! I have to erase, and re-think what I wanted my ending to be. Where do I want my characters to be? I've changed my mind a few times I'm sure LOL

Bekah said...

Ps- Love you background! I swear it is what I had envisoned for my MG parallel dimension of earth LOL. very cool : )

Chersti Nieveen said...

Oh wow, Shallee! I am so glad you figured it out, and I didn't realize you were SO CLOSE to being done. Awesome!

I actually just had that problem, but it was with my main character. I had an event happen, which very much changed her perspective on life and the tone of the book. So I had to move that event to a later chapter. And there you have it!

Madeleine said...

Ooh Great post! If I get a problem chapter or scene I leave it and go do some ironing or somethng and while I'm busy with the mundane I suddenly think 'actually this would be better from this angle or using this character'. I admit I haven't had to re-develop a minor character as you've described, yet! ;O)

Angie said...

Yeah for you! It's awesome to be so close to done and awesome that you could figure out a problem like that. I know I had one character who was a lot more important to a story than I thought, and I had to go back and figure out who he really was before I could get the story right. Good luck!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Congratulations on the break-through! I have had this problem, too, for sure. Are you a pantser writer by any chance? I am, and I wonder if this type of thing happens as much to people who do detailed plotting.

I don't know how I fix it in my own manuscripts. My last one, I allowed one of the minor characters to derail the book and never changed it. I grew attached to the unconventional ending, thought of it as a twist. But in hindsight, I think it ruined the book. *sigh* Live and learn!

Amy

Lynda Young said...

One of my minor characters was getting too big for his boots,... so I killed him off ;)

Christina Lee said...

Hmmm...milling over that questions and I think the answer is yes! But maybe I thought it was the scene and not the character. But if I look at it that way, it WAS the character!

Julie Musil said...

It's so awesome how you worked through that! Right now, my antagonist feels a little flat. I need to do more work on him!

Alexandra Crocodile said...

I haven't, but it's an interesting discussion. And I'll probably experience it one day:)

Ann said...

I haven't had this problem yet. I hope to have it soon though, because that would mean I was getting on with my story.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I hope you pop over again.

DL Hammons said...

I'm an outliner, so this rarely ever happens to me. But I have had a character expand his role as we went along. Don't ever say that outliners aren't flexible. :)

Jackee said...

Yep, secondary characters are giving me grief right now more than anything else. I really need to get inside their heads too.

Thanks for sharing, Shallee! :o)

Angela Ackerman said...

Feels good when you recognize the problem, doesn't it? Good for you!

My minor characters don't often give me problems, it's always the main one, lol.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Clarissa Draper said...

Oh, that happens with me and sometimes I hate it and sometimes I love it. When it happens and you understand why it happens, it can make your novel so much more rich and enjoyable. Or, it can create a lot of problems. Great post. I'm now a follower. Hmmm, I can see why I have the problem with time. So many great blogs!

CD

Theresa Milstein said...

In those moments, I reread from the beginning and see where the character fits in with the story. Sometimes I add to the character so he doesn't come out of the blue with big part later. Even if I don't add, I figure out who he is so his motivations will make the actions more authentic.

Good luck reaching the end and revising!

Melanie said...

have totally had this happen to me with my current wip (writing the last chapter now woot woot!). i had this character who i thought would only have a small part in the story, but then i realized that he had more to give because of his feelings for the mc. i had to go back and change a few things and he ended up having a much larger role than i ever imagined.

 
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