Thursday, September 3, 2009

Onions and Mushrooms

I have learned the lesson. I know to never think that just because I invented them that my characters won't catch me off guard. I have mentioned before that I outline every project (be it book, short story or game) and that I write bios for my important players (and that can be quite a few bios). My rationale is I want to know everything I can before I plunge into the pool and I still get shocked by my characters' behaviour. (No, I don't mean that kind of behaviour - this blog is family-rated. Geesh.)

Characters that I thought would be easy to write often times aren't which leads to me having to figure out why. Does she/he have the wrong name? (this is the issue many times) Am I using the wrong vocabulary or writing in the wrong rhythm? Is she/he too similar to someone else and that's why I'm having trouble? (this can lead to lots of fun as if this is the problem I'm back at the drawing board).

Then there are the characters that are easy to write and they practically jump off the page. I smile as I write and it's wonderful. But then come...

The Mushrooms

These are characters that seem to pop out of nowhere and insist on staying. They're not major characters but they're not minor. They seem to have things to say that I can't assign to anyone else. Handy little creatures but always a surprise. If I'm very lucky I may also find...

The Onions

These are secondary characters who are so multi-layered that any of them could carry huge portions of the plot. Each time I discover an onion I am relieved as it's usually a sign that my secondary plots are realistic enough to support strong characters.

Every project is a journey with a known destination but these traveling companions can make what can sometimes be an arduous trek into a more gratifying experience.


  1. Too often, my characters turn out to be weeds. They grow quickly and I think, "Hey! This character might be good!" Then they end up choking the story and I have to poison them. Kind of suspicious when all your characters are dead by the end of the book and there's no one left to blame.

  2. That's funny, Jack, but unless you're writing Hamlet I could see it could be a problem. And I think Hamlet has been done....

  3. It sounds like if you add the onion and mushrooms to the meat of your story, you'll have quite a dish. (Couldn't resist.)

    Characters do tend to pop up unexpectedly, don't they?

    Straight From Hel

  4. I love your posts -- you always keep it about the writing. :)

  5. Are any of your secondary characters scene-stealers? I seem to have a problem controlling my secondary characters. In fact I'm going to blog about it. They're way too sassy.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. I do like it when new characters pop up unexpectedly, and I do often have the problem of secondary characters taking over and upstaging my main character.

    But have you ever had a character that you thought would be present until the end of the book suddenly disappear? Leave on a bus? Drop dead? I was taken totally by surprise by one of my people, but it was exciting to have a new twist to follow. Has definitely required some revision to the outline, however.


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