|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
THEN IT'S LIKE CHOOSING THE TEAM
AND, AS WITH ANY TEAM, NOT EVERYBODY IS GOING TO MAKE IT.
You've made it through all this pain and stress of assigning traits to your characters. You've given them goals, wants, and the motivation of needs. So now comes the real agony: Who are these characters, and am I really going to use them?
Well, you need a protagonist. I mean, somebody has to do something. Otherwise we're back to the whole Seinfeld thing. Only worse. A story about nothing is bad, but a story about nobody isn't - a story. So, there's one character. The protagonist needs an antagonist. Now, as we've said, this doesn't have to be a human, and it's even possible to be the same physical being as the protagonist (Oh, you twisted soul), but you need one.
How do you decide on the others? Well, what is it going to take to move your story forward? Every character you put in the story MUST propel it forward in some way. In other words, every one must be necessary to the tale. Each one has a job of helping the story proceed.
You have a story in which a husband begins to think his wife is plotting to get rid of him. He doesn't trust his own judgement so he invites someone in to discuss his feelings.The new character's job is to confirm or deny the husband's suspicions.
Say the husband consults with two friends about his suspicions. But they seem to disagree. The first one is convinced the hidden pistol, the shovel and tarp in the trunk of the wife's car, and the plane ticket to Buenos Aires charged to the credit card, are probably proof positive. The second sees these as coincidental. After all, the husband's birthday is coming, his wife is a gardener, and they have talked about a trip for their anniversary.
The opposition you build here reflects the opposition in the husband's mind. Is there a plot against him or not? Each character has a role that will help bring about the resolution.
And yes, Virginia, as you assemble your cast, you need to answer more questions:
* What is this character's job?
* Does the character help generate or resolve the conflict? How?
* Does the character help your protagonist resolve the story's central problem? How?
* Does the character help the antagonist provide obstacles for your protagonist to overcome? What obstacles?
If you're writing short fiction then your economy of characters is critical. Nobody just "hangs out" in short fiction. They all must have a role that is vital to the story. Each character should fulfill at least one of the following functions:
* Help generate or diffuse conflict.
* Provide obstacles or help the protagonist remove them.
* Add dimension (through contrast or similarity) to other characters.
If a character doesn't meet one of these criteria then he/she is an empty suit on the stage and should be cut. Even one with seeming early significance may need to be axed down the road. However, you've done the background on the character, perhaps you can use them in another story later on. That's what being a writer's all about.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis