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Revising Chant - II

Yesterday was for my nephew--seven years old, and in desperate need of a vacation from his three-year-old brother.  Though the later part of the afternoon was spent waiting on the air conditioning repair guy (for the second time in two days!), we had a wonderful time.  We visited a little local model train museum, played with his trains, and messed around in the garden.  He and the dogs ran joyful laps around the house last night and this morning.  We even had ice cream sundaes at the Cow Palace.  (Yes, it's rural Indiana.)

My sis and I often joke that we got each other's children.  My son is so much like her in temperament; her eldest son is so much like me.  While we call each other for advice on how to handle our boys, we also are learning about and coming to understand each other.  Cool family stuff, that.

Today, revisions.

I have a minor character who gets a couple little bits of viewpoint screen time, and no more.  She's one of many who fall in that category, and one of two that troubled a pair of my beta readers.   The problem?  They never return to the stage for their moment of resolution.

I made them serve their purpose at points of (hopefully) dramatic tension, then abandoned them.  After all, I didn't need them for the rest of the story, and at about 130K words, I figured I didn't need to be adding more.  But really, I do.  In one instance, it'll take no more than a couple of paragraphs and dialog exchanges, and will actually add a nice moment that helps fix something that has been bothering me (but apparently didn't trouble a single beta).

The second character will have more stage time through the first half of the novel, then will be set aside in a way that resolves her arc...and leaves her available for the sequel.  She was memorable enough that two beta readers reached the end of the story still wondering what happened to her.  I'd be a fool not to use that memorability to my advantage.

Problems solved.  But thinking of the solution led me to consider why the other viewpoint "dip" characters really didn't bother anyone.

One of the first things that came to mind was the oft-used Ensemble Scene in film.  Characters who played a small role in the story arc might show up to shake the hero's hand, might deliver a single line intended to sum up her/his role in the post-climax order, might just give a silent nod from the far background.  The point is to ensure the audience isn't distracted from The Whole Point by leaving the theater asking, "I wonder what happened to Minor Character X?" 

I don't have a scene like that, but I do have two characters who show up close enough to the end that I think the principle applies.

The rest of the characters all have a reason to either leave or be left behind by the story, or a moment that brings closure to their emotional involvement with the primary characters.  In other words, readers have some indication that disengaging from the character won't impact the story, that there's no reason to keep holding a mental space for them.

There are times when we want the readers to wonder, when we want them to keep casting glances over their shoulder to see if that minor character is coming along or not.  But doing so accidentally will just annoy them.  And if I'm going to annoy readers, I want to do it on purpose.

In other news...  Six weeks until Dev leaves for Law Enforcement Camp, giving me an entire five days with no one to worry about but myself.  And only seven weeks until Karate Camp--field day for grown-ups!


Blair MacGregor

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May 2017


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