Monday, November 23, 2009

Not So Quiet Characters

Everyone had that kid in their class who sat quietly in the back of the room. They were friendly, they did their schoolwork, but they were quiet and happily followed the leaders. Sometimes, they would start to speak and an entirely new personality would emerge. You could discover quiet little Sheila studied karote or went to Egypt in the summer and now quiet little Sheila isn't being quiet anymore.

This is the situation I'm facing at the moment. Within my rather large group of characters I've had someone who had been dozing rather contentedly on the sidelines. A few weeks ago I had admonished him to either start talking or accept he would be leaving and suddenly he began to talk. I've discovered all sorts of things about him. He has a wonderful sense of humor and a large sense of pride. He adores his wife. He's an observer. He likes things to be done properly. Now my problem is he won't shut up.

Don't think I'm not grateful, because I am. He has added another dimension to my story coming from an older perspective. I suspect that he and my oldest female character are going to form some sort of alliance as there is a great deal being said in the argument of tradition versus moving with the times. I adore him and am feeling somewhat guilty I threatened him with the delete key. But he needs to know his place.

This is a secondary character. Secondary. I have enough characters vying for the spotlight, I cannot have another. I can't let him take the place of one of my top tier characters; it throws the balance off. I have considered it and so far, I can't see a way to make it work.

My hope is that he's going to fade back to sleep for a while and show up again later. I do, however, have the suspicion I'm being optimistic. I seem to have awakened a monster.

How do you make your characters go back to sleep? Or do you go along for the ride?


  1. I just go along for the ride, as long as it benefits the story.

    Great thought provoking post.

  2. Hmm, yes - it can become a problem when characters start vying for more stage time, lol. But ya gotta love it when they "come alive." It's a good problem to have.

    Marvin D Wilson

  3. I vote for going along for the ride, always fun. It sounds like a great argument he is immersed in, "tradition versus moving with the times." It's a hot topic with strong support for each side!

  4. I'm all for going along for the ride. Although, looking at my revisions, I can see that I'm going to have to kick a few of those pushy characters out of the car.

  5. Count my vote for going along with the ride. The result may be wonderful or useless, but you won't know unless you let him do his thing. Maybe he could be the focus of another story. Sounds like he would enjoy MC status.

    Good luck no matter which you choose.

  6. Journaling Woman; Thanks for your advice and for dropping by!

    Old Silly; There are certainly worse problems!

    Joanne; It is turning into an interesting plot point.

    Deb; I'm hoping he'll settle for a place in the back seat!

    abouttothunder; It probably is a case of wait and see. I can't see him as a MC though. Perhaps time will tell!

  7. I have little control over the characters. If they appear in a scene, they almost do what they want, they certainly say what they want. If this is just one character out of whack, then, maybe it’ll be okay, fascinating subordinate characters who “almost” steal the show are kinda cool.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  8. Elspeth, I am just discovering the wonders of characters who talk back, so take my opinion for what it is worth, but the ride will only get you so far. At some point the conflict you are facing is more interesting than another character vying for attention.

    When all else fails, kill him off.


  9. Galen; This one has taken me by surprise. I'm hoping it all turns out kinda cool.

    Michele; I can't kill him off! I'm having enough heartache killing off my intended victim!

  10. Elspeth - I like it when my secondary characters start talking. I do my best to help them channel their energy, so to speak, though. For instance, I might have one of them give my sleuth an important clue, or find something important, or stumble upon the body. When a secondary character starts to really have a personality, that means that s/he's going to be interesting to readers, too. I say, make it work for you and channel that energy.

  11. Put on your seat belt and enjoy the ride. ;) You can always revise/cut some of his unnecessary dialogue later, if need be. I can't wait to read the finished product!

  12. I'd go for the ride and see where the character takes you.

  13. I go along. Sometimes they end up taking the place of another character or more. Sometimes they go away on the next draft. But I can't know for sure until they've had their say and the story is finished. If they go away, I keep them in their own little file folder. Sometimes they're perfect for a different project.

  14. Elspeth - Do you think there might be characters that are somehow only important because they are secondary? Would Aslan have been so powerful if he were interacting and present all the time? Would Pennywise the clown in King's book It have been so terrifying if he were there all the time? I know your character is probably very different than these two extreme examples, just a curiousity that popped into my head.

  15. Margot; Those are good ideas; thanks. Handing him an important clue might help.

    Heather; Revisions are down the road; but I shall buckle up! Thanks for saying you want to read it!

    Carolyn; It seems to be the consensus; go along for the ride.

    Carol; I shall wait until the end and find out; he may take someone else's place; but I don't think so. I'll see! Right now, I'd love to use him again.

  16. Sheila; You make a very good point. I'd never thought of it like that. Food for thought... There certainly are characters that lose their impact if they have too large a role.

  17. This is hard. I had a character that wanted the limelight in the first Memphis BBQ book that I've just finished editing. Since I've got book 2 due in April, I'm going to make her role larger in that book--but still, she's not the protagonist.I've only got 75,000 words, so I can't let the characters all do what they want to (although they TRY to see what they can get away with.)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  18. I love when characters come to life. I had a main character all figured out and she went and became the exact opposite. At first I was confused, then angry, then I decided to let her do her thing. Now, I love this character just the way she is. More life-like then the way I first created her. WOW! I love to write.
    Also, I just joined your blog. I love the articles. Would like to invite you to check out mine: and also to check out my website:
    M.J. Macie

  19. I would let him have his say. In the end, you can edit.

  20. One way to quiet him, at least for the moment, is to tell him he'll be the star in a sequel.

    Straight From Hel

  21. Elizabeth SC; It is hard, isn't it? Why do these characters have to be so pushy? It's like they think they're the boss. The nerve!

    M.J. Thanks for joining my blog; I'm on my way to check our yours. I'm always pleased to meet new writers!

    Elizabeth B; Yes. I SHALL have the final say.

    Helen; He's tricky, but I'll try. It's difficult to reason with an older member of English aristocracy.

  22. I'd probably let him talk and shout and do whatever else he wants to do. He doesn't need to know about the editing rounds at the moment - and he may end up being a key piece for you :)

  23. My characters generally cooperate but I have had a couple of times where I had to rework things because I strayed off the course a little too much... But strong secondary characters can provide great comic relief.

  24. Jemi; I'm trying to keep him under some control; but he may end up being a key piece. I'm going to push on and see what he does.

    Stephanie; Honestly, I love him because he does provide great comedic possibilities. My plot is still online, it's him wanting to play a larger part.

  25. Go along for the ride - it should be fun.

  26. I do so much pre-planning before I write I usually don't have that problem. If he's too quiet, perhaps he needs to go.

  27. Rayna; It might very well be, thanks for your comment!

    Lauri; I do pre-planning as well; this is why this is such a surprise.


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