How to Handle Minor Characters and Groups in Fiction

As I work on my re-write of my manuscript, a bunch of things are clicking that hadn’t before, which is very encouraging for me! I think I have figured out how to hack into my main characters’ made-up souls to make them believable and interesting. Of course, one thing is sketching them out on my spreadsheet, and another is presenting who they are in some clever way in the story itself. (!)

One area that continues to elude me is how to handle minor characters and groups in fiction. I consistently fumbled this in my manuscript, losing my editor along the way, not making it clear who she was supposed to focus on, and who was unimportant.

Last night Steve and I watched Twilight (I know. I know.), and though I’ve never read the books, I know Stephenie Meyer had to create these high school cliques for Bella to blow off in favor of her vampire boyfriend. In visual media, perhaps showing minor characters and groups is less tricky, because you can simply put them in the background of whatever the main activity is (like Bella in the cafeteria first noticing the Cullens) and it doesn’t distract from where the audience is supposed to focus. In the movie, when Bella first notices the Cullens, she’s physically surrounded by other teens and the Cullens slow-motion walk to their table in the corner of the cafeteria. Here is the book excerpt of this scene setting up this moment from Twilight.

In this excerpt, we have two people, Bella mentions by name and one girl who she is talking to but is not named (since Bella quickly forgets her name). We get the sense that the cafeteria is full of teenagers. We know that Bella is surrounded by other people at the table (“several of her friends”), and is generally feeling like the new kid in school.

Looking at this closely, I notice a few things that Meyer has done.

  1. Each minor character Meyer introduces gets his or her little paragraph.
  2. The “group” in paragraph two has its own little paragraph.
  3. The scenery of groups and individuals is finally painted in the last paragraph.

My take-away from this little analysis is that it takes more words than I thought to develop minor characters. Also, it’s still necessary to develop minor characters and groups by citing some characteristic or behavior, to orient the reader and build the scene.

All that doesn’t seem too hard, does it?!

Figuring Out this Writing Business

Today we were supposed to pack ourselves up with our two cats and head back to Florida for the foreseeable future. As it is, some work on my house got delayed, and we’ve been set back another week. I have decided to make lemonade and be happy that I would get the chance to work on my writing projects. I sent off my book review, which is supposed to run in October. I also wrote another piece that is a stretch for me personally and technically. It’s a piece that had been on my mind since last year. I sent it off to The Atlantic and, big surprise, I have not heard back from them.

A few weeks ago, I had blogged about book reviews and said that it’s best not to attempt to pitch your first review with a major publication. I specifically even said, The Atlantic. So now, maybe I’ll take my advice and find a more niche place for my piece. I’m not disappointed about it, so much as I am somewhat frustrated. While there is a lot of excellent writing advice on the internet, some things are tough to teach yourself. It’s a ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ situation. And since I don’t personally know anyone who writes for a living, well, it’s a lot of trial and error.

Fortunately, I reached out to U.S. Air Force Academy grad and romance/science fiction author Susan Grant, and she has very kindly made herself available to share what she knows about writing and selling fiction. I’m very thankful for my women service academy group; otherwise, I would not have found her. I regret to say that we women, as a group, don’t appear to be as attuned to networking as a professional philosophy, as men. But I think this is changing. As more women move up in the world and remember to share what they do and what they know, and other women think to reach out to them and leverage their experience, this will improve. It’s funny how much of an afterthought it is, at least for me, but I don’t think I’m the only one. But I’m hopeful this will change and that maybe someday I’ll be in the position to pay it forward.

Pitching Unsolicited Manuscripts

I’ve gotten in a good routine here at my Airbnb without my kids or my dog or my big house to look after, aside from managing some final projects. There is something to be said—a lot to be said— for living a simpler life. While our three-story, 3300 square foot house was beautiful with lots of great spaces and amenities, it’s the sort of home where minor projects become the reason to call in a contractor. I don’t own a ladder tall enough to clean my gutters or change out the ceiling light bulbs in the main living space, for example. So here I will say for the record: I never want a big house again.

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In Writing as in Life, Let Your Subconcious Do The Work

I have officially been edged out of my house and have made a little office for myself in the garage. The contractors have made their way from the third floor, all the way to the first floor of my house, working their way down and repainting the entire thing along the way. Eventually, they will blow out the garage, and I will be stuck on my front lawn as I supervise the job and keep them moving along. We’ve been under construction in this house for most of the time we’ve lived here, thanks to the hurricane, so I know I need to stick around while the work gets done.

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