Category Archives: Guest Posts

The Benefits of Paying Attention to Your Supporting Characters: Guest Post by J.E. Nice

by J. E. Nice

I love a good supporting character.  Not only do I personally tend to find them more interesting than the protagonist, but they can add so much to your stories, whether it’s adding to the plot, creating more scenes or to be used as a device for your main character.

Many writers may be tempted to overlook fully developing their supporting characters, because they’re putting all of their effort into their main cast. It’s understandable. Sometimes your main character just needs a best friend to lean on, and that’s all they’re there for.

But by not discovering who that best friend is, you could be missing a trick.

Let me give you an example.

Nearly ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel. I had a vague idea for the plot but I had a definite protagonist, antagonist, and one supporting character who was going to help my heroine.

I wrote half of the book before I had to stop and acknowledge that something was missing. My main character and the bad guy were in two separate places, and I needed something extra there until they met towards the middle of the book.

I created two new characters for this purpose, a young maid and an old army veteran, and placed them in the vicinity of my antagonist.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the maid to be so curious about what was going on or quite so headstrong. Neither was I expecting the two to hit it off quite so well in the first scene I wrote with them alone together.

By the time I’d written the two into my existing manuscript, the maid had nearly completely taken over the plot.

What did this add to my novel? Well, it’s now the first in a trilogy. The whole story went from being one of a strong woman to three women all at different stages in their lives but all on the same path. By adding those two characters, the whole book became stronger and more fun to write.

If that hasn’t convinced you to pay more attention to your supporting characters (or to create some more), here are five benefits those characters could bring to your stories:

1. They will help to strengthen your plot.

No matter how much you plot and plan your stories (if you do at all), your characters will always surprise you as they develop and grow. It’s the sign of a well written character, a good story, and that you’re really getting into the writing. (Which is good; if you’re bored of writing, the reader will be bored reading it.)

By giving some focus to your supporting characters, you’re giving more scope for surprise from your cast. Who knows which supporting character could throw up a red herring for you or be the key to the whole mystery.

They may not take over the plot, but on the other hand…

2.  They may take over your plot.

If your supporting characters are particularly strong-willed, they may surprise you and this could include taking over the story, as mine did. If this happens, you can choose to embrace it and see where they lead you, embrace it but make sure they stay in line, or keep them quiet but take notes (see point five).

Your plot and story might change if you allow them to take over, but it could become so much better than you originally thought.

3.  Their stories will make the whole story more interesting.

By getting to know the backstories, motivations and personality traits of your supporting characters, you’ll be able to create subplots. Those little storylines that occur alongside, and potentially weave in and out of, your main plot. These subplots give your reader something else to focus on, especially when they need a break from the frantic drama and action of your main plot, or maybe when you want to create a little suspense. This can also include some comic relief and a bit of humanity, and could end up being integral to the climax of the overarching storyline.

4.  They’ll help to develop your protagonists.

If you create your supporting character with a full backstory and personality traits, then you’ll have someone complete for your protagonists to bounce off. By doing this, you might get to see a new side to your main characters. Maybe a supporting character will rub them the wrong way, or perhaps they’ll get on better than you had anticipated.

However your main characters react, it’ll give them a little more depth and something new for your reader to consider and potentially love about them.

5. You’ll find they give you more material.

If your supporting characters turn out to have a particularly interesting backstory, or if they’re trying to take over, they could give you new ideas and material for further stories and books.

A particular favourite supporting character in your novel could have a short story, novella or even their own novel. This can be great fun for you as a writer, but readers who loved the original story will be more than happy to have more of what could be their favourite characters.

If you’re building your author platform and business, a short story about a supporting character can be a great freebie for your growing readership. Or you can try submitting it to publications as a marketing tool for your novel.

So those supporting characters could not only make your plot better and give your main characters more depth, they can be great for sales, marketing and building a loyal readership.

Honestly, you have nothing to lose by devoting more attention to your supporting characters. So give them a chance to shine. They may surprise you.

Jenny Lewis is a fantasy writer, freelance marketing assistant and runs the fiction writer’s resources hub Write into the Woods. Her trilogy, The Last War, is available now and you can get the first book, mentioned in this post, Matter of Time, for free. Jenny lives in Bristol, UK, a city where it is downright encouraged to be weird, wonderful and every inch yourself, with her husband and Labrador puppy, Bucky.

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Surviving Co-Authorship: Guest Post by Jennifer Pallanich

By Jennifer Pallanich

 

Co-writing a novel can be the best idea you’ve ever had. Or it can be a miserable experience that causes you to swear off co-authorship for the rest of your life.

Think back to those group projects in school. Sometimes the group was a dream team, and everyone contributed well and evenly, creating something that was far better than any one person could have done solo. The project was fun and you got an A. This is what you want.

But more often than not, one or two people did all the work while the rest contributed some or none at all. The keeners felt taken advantage of and the others felt nagged by the barrage of requests to participate. Not fun for anyone.

I hated group projects.

But I love co-writing: the collaborative process, working with someone I trust completely, each bringing our own writing strengths to the table.

What’s at the core of our co-author relationship? My brother and I make a good team. There’s the trust I mentioned, developed from earliest childhood and our shared upbringing. We have similar tastes in reading, culture and entertainment. We share many of the same interests and outlooks. We have similar work ethic and drive. We share certain writing ambitions and have a shared vision for what we want to accomplish.

We started our co-author lives with a deck stacked deeply in our favor.

But there are three more essential elements that make our collaboration enjoyable: artistic chemistry, mutual respect, and clearly defined expectations.

Artistic chemistry means bringing out the best in the other person’s writing and thinking. We spend countless hours kicking around ideas and brainstorming to work through knotty plot problems together. His ideas spur mine, and mine spur his. The artistic chemistry that is evident when we brainstorm makes me happy. It makes all the hard hours in front of the laptop fun.

Mutual respect is huge, and is borne of the trust we share. We treat each other well. We know the other person’s strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own. We can see the other grow and improve in the craft of writing. We listen to the other’s opinions and respond respectfully, even when we disagree or just don’t like a suggestion. In the end, we make choices based on what’s best for the story we’re trying to tell, not based on whose idea it was or who just gave up and gave in because they just wanted the discussion to be over. To us, the story is bigger than the ego.

Probably the most important thing my brother and I did when we decided to create a superhero universe and co-write and co-publish a trilogy is draft a set of responsibilities and expectations. Our co-author agreement stipulates who has final say over story points and who has final say over the words. It outlines who handles which marketing actions. It states who works with the editors and who works with the artists. These roles are obviously in line with our strengths. I wouldn’t ever dream of collaborating with someone without clearly setting out the expectations of each party.

So, for example, if one of us believes the story should go one way, and the other thinks it should go the other, we’d both make our cases. Through the discussion – which often will include the question “what’s best for the story?” – one or the other of us might be swayed, and the discussion ends. But sometimes the person in charge of story makes a ruling. Once that’s done, the discussion is over and we move on, no ego involved.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that co-authoring is less work or somehow easier than doing your own thing. Collaborating makes far more work, although I think the final product is worth it.

We’re both plotters rather than pantsers, so while we share the same writing approach we must harmonize two different writing styles. To address this, he revises the chapters I write and I revise the chapters he writes. This approach helps blend our styles and ensures every chapter shines with both of our voices.

Right now, my brother and I are in the final throes of revising the fourth draft of our second book to send to our editor at the end of January. It’s pretty intense, with each of us spending two or three hours a day on the project. Some of that is solo work – laptop hours editing and revising. But we spend a lot of time discussing the draft and fixing loose ends and broken logic.

The process isn’t perfect, and we’ve fine-tuned it a bit since we starting writing the first draft of the first book, but it works for us.

Happy writing.

 

Jennifer Pallanich is a freelance writer. As a trade journalist, she has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She and her brother, Baltimore Russell, created the Children of the Solstice universe and between October 2014 and January 2015, they co-wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy. They co-published book one, Awakening, in late 2016 through their publishing imprint Pair Tree Ink. The second book is expected out in mid-2018. Jennifer loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum. She volunteers with a local no-kill animal shelter.  Check out her Amazon page.

Baltimore Russsell is an actor, producer, and writer.  He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV.  Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories.  He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan Delatorre.  Check out his Amazon page.

 

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