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How should I handle the lack of focus on my supporting characters?

  1. Add in cutaways to show what previously met characters are doing.

    1 vote(s)
    33.3%
  2. Break the book into a short series with one book focusing on each supporting character.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. Stick with the current outline and don't worry about it; it's not as big of a problem as I think.

    2 vote(s)
    66.7%
  1. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    Not enough development time?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SolZephyr, Jan 28, 2019.

    Sorry for the big post, but I've been on hiatus from writing for about 3 months (finishing up a dissertation) and now that I'm coming back to my story, I'm concerned. I've had time to think about some insecurities I've had for a while and they're really bothering me now.

    My biggest concern is that 6 of the characters that I want people to care about (that's a lot, I know) are simply not given enough time in the spotlight. They each have 2-3 chapters focusing on them and the MCs' interactions, but then because of the MCs' journey they disappear from the story for a while until events bring them all back together.

    I've tossed around a couple of ideas on how to address this:
    1. cutaways to events happening with these other characters at various points in the story -- the biggest pro to this approach would be showing how the characters end up back together, but the book is already ~120k to 130k words so I'm worried it might get bloated
    2. break the story up into a series of novellas instead of one big novel -- I can easily expand on 5 of these 6 characters' arcs to give them about 30k - 40k words each, so I'd have a novella for each of those characters and a few more for after they all get together
    3. ignore it and follow the current outline anyway
    4. focus on a smaller project currently on the back burner while I figure out what to do with this one
    I've thought about the pros and cons, but one that might not be obvious is that changing how I present the story (especially the novella approach) messes with my excerpt structure. I put little first person accounts (excerpts from a book my MC gets about 1/3 through) at the end of each chapter that are essentially lore dumps. If I break the book into a series, I don't know how I would present this information outside of a huge lore dump 2/3 through when the MC finally reads the book she gets (it's locked until a plot-crucial event occurs, so she can't start reading earlier). Honestly, if it wasn't for that issue I probably would just go straight for the novella approach.

    Thanks in advance. I would really appreciate any advice on this.
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Can you pinpoint why you think people don't care (if that's actually the case) about your characters? Is it really that they haven't enough time in the 'spotlight' - meaning a larger portion of the story should contain them? Or is it because there hasn't been much perspective on them, from your POV character?

    I think if your POV character cares about these people, your readers will as well. How does your MC see these characters? Can you come up with one or two incidents that nails each of the peripheral characters' personalities? Maybe something your MC /POV thinks about, looks forward to, or remembers, while on the journey?
     
  3. Veltman

    Veltman Active Member

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    Let me add something you didn't mention in your options on how to deal with it:

    Merge some of these characters in one. Perhaps if they just vanish because you can't justify them being in the scenes with the MC, merging them in one single character that is more developed and explored is the right thing to do?

    Having six characters fighting for the spotlight in your book is a tough thing to deal with, from my experience.
     
  4. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    That's a good idea, but it would be painful for me to do. I need to have a character representing each nation in the finale for the plot to make sense, and I made my world too big when I was world-building (I wanted a comprehensive magic system and have a race for each primary type of magic). Because of that, merging characters would mean merging nations. Throwing out all of that world building and rewriting the world's history to adjust for that would be a tough pill to swallow.

    That's another reason I'm personally leaning towards the novella idea -- it would let me dive more thoroughly into each nation's culture and environment. I know it's not plot-crucial to do that, though.

    My goal is to add some drama by having the supporting characters sacrifice themselves, but I think it would come off as melodramatic if they aren't well established. That's why if I go with the "ignore the problem" option I'll probably just scale back the drama, and have only one character bite the bullet instead.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2019
  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that one important question here is: What are your goals for this project? If you're writing it for yourself, you should do whatever you want to do. If you're hoping for traditional publication, both the big-novel and the novella schemes strike me as problematic.
     
  6. Veltman

    Veltman Active Member

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    @SolZephyr I get your point and I can relate. Just let me point this out: sometimes the things that are most painful to axe are the ones you most need to. Don't be afraid to go through major rewrites if you feel that it's necessary. More than once I found myself cutting entire scenes I was very satisfied with, but they had to go in order for bigger things to work.
     
  7. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I never had any big hopes for traditional publishing. I am pretty much writing for myself, but that doesn't mean I don't want the story to be the best it can be.

    I don't know, I might just go somewhere in between the options I offered and split the book into a trilogy, as it does divide fairly evenly into three parts. I'd still have to cut the excerpts if I did that, probably, but as @Veltman said cutting out something I don't want to might be for the best in the long run.
     
  8. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I think I could live with cutting out the excerpts if I went with splitting up the story into multiple books. Cutting out nations would really be a major rewrite though, since I would either have to rewrite my magic system or world-building (or both), and I'd also have to give up on my motif of the number 8, which would truly rub me the wrong way (a weird thing to obsess over, I know, but that's how it is).

    That said, after thinking about it for a bit the events that occur in two of the nations could be shifted into other nations, allowing me to write out two of the characters. That's the most I could cut without really breaking the story's key plot points (well, I could cut one more but I think that would hurt the pacing and foreshadowing).

    Actually... I just had a morbid thought while writing this response to you. I could just outright kill the two nations that can be cut prior to the events of the story. With the world's past it would not be too unbelievable. I would only need to change some of the world's history without sacrificing any other part of my world-building. I will need to think about what the implications would be on current events, but it's an avenue I haven't considered before, so thanks for getting me to think about it.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Right--I understand that you want it to be good. But it is relevant for separating factors that are purely about whether it's good or bad, and factors that are more about market forces. I don't see anything inherently bad about a series of novellas, but I suspect they'd be a hard sell for traditional publishing, as would a book substantially longer than 100K words.
     
  10. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Senior Member

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    I was going to ask why length was an issue, but @ChickenFreak says (I presume with some measure of experience-based authority) that books over 100K words are hard to sell to publishers. That's an interesting tidbit to me, because I've been told by an experienced novelist that 80-100K words was the threshold for having something even considered a "novel". To make this post, I Googled and found a site (readinglength.com) that reports lengths of novels. Funny, but the most famous of this guy's novels (well, one of his most famous anyway) comes in at around 65K words. :D I'll chide him just a bit for that. However, the first three novels in The Expanse series are all around 170K words, and Lonesome Dove tops out over 300K. Anyway, that information and a couple dollars will buy you a cup of coffee.

    Can you take a two-pronged approach of both expanding the story lines of the secondary characters (I like this idea; it makes the world richer) and trimming some out of the rest of the novel to keep the word count down to a "reasonable" level? I find the more I trim from my work, the more readable it becomes. YMMV.

    Also consider the model that James S. A. Corey has taken with The Expanse, wherein they (co-authors) produce novellas between novel releases to flesh out the side stories of main story line. In a smaller execution (they'll end the series with nine novels and about five or six novellas), you could write a few character-fleshing short stories and release them before the novel comes out to whet the appetite of your readers. Just a thought.

    Anyway, good luck.

    Cheers.

    JD
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My understanding--and this comes from reading various advice about publishing, not from actual experience in publishing--is that an author's FIRST novel is going to be extra hard to sell if it's too long. I always assumed that that was because the cost of editing, etc., is higher, and since the new author has no sales record, the odds of losing that money is higher.

    I also read recently--and I wish I could remember where--someone's opinion that if an unpublished author's novel is long, the odds are very high that that's because that author hasn't yet learned how to tighten his prose, and so he'll have bloated prose.

    That doesn't mean that there are no exceptions, but I always think it's unwise to count on being an exception. If I write a 150K word novel with brilliant tight prose where every word earns its space...I still suspect I'm not going to sell that as my first novel.

    Edite to add: I'd like to be wrong, because I suspect my current WIP wants to be about 140K. But I think that the odds of selling it at 140K, as my first novel, are extraordinarily low.
     
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  12. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    Ah, thank you for clarifying on both of your posts. That certainly makes sense about the first book being a hard sell if its long.

    I still don't have much hope at getting traditionally published, but that doesn't mean it's off the table. I like the idea of following The Expanse's strategy (thanks for the suggestion @J.D. Ray). However, it sounds like if I were to complete a shorter story first I'd have a better chance at traditional publishing if I tried to go for it. If that were to work out I'd be in a better position for my larger story.

    However, I've been reading a decent bit about traditional vs self publishing, and assuming that my stories are actually worth anything my takeaway is that self publishing is far more likely to be the successful approach for a new author, provided I put in the work and money to hire (reliable) editors and self-promote. I would also have more creative freedom that way, or at least that's what it sounds like.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I’m not sure why you feel that self publishing is more likely to be successful? Most self published books sell very few copies. You would almost certainly lose money.
     
  14. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I suppose my definition of successful is simply getting published at all and breaking even on the cost. I might just be being pessimistic but I worry that my stories (at least some of them) wouldn't be what publishers are interested in. I've heard from other people that as long as you are careful with your editors, listen to your betas and other critical feedback, and learn how to properly promote yourself (and make it look like you aren't self-published) you can at least do decently going the self publishing route.

    I admit I'm far from an expert on this, and probably even still naive. I've been perusing a few sites on the subject, so I feel like I at least have an idea what I'm talking about, but since I'm nowhere near close to actually finishing a book yet I probably haven't looked into it as much as I should.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I have every confidence that those people are wrong. They're not lying--well, except for the ones who are making a living lying to hopeful self publishers, but I'm assuming you're talking to individuals. They believe what they're saying. And they're wrong. They will present you with examples--The Martian! Something else! And something else! But exceptions are exceptions.

    It's highly unlikely that you'll break even on the cost of a decent, or even a fairly bad, editor, with a self published book.

    People will tell you that I'm so so so wrong and this is the path to...well, if not millions, at least enough money to break even and then buy you lunch once in a while. I'm going to try not to debate with those people.

    Edited to add: If I were to self publish--and I won't; I'm going to try to get this thing traditionally published, and if it doesn't happen, I'm going to try with the next one--I would do my own editing, spend maybe a hundred dollars on a cover, epublish, and call it a hobby. Hobbies cost money, they don't make money.

    Edited to add: And hobbies are an admirable thing. There are many, many admirable creations in every area of art that never made a penny. I'm not saying that work that isn't accepted by a publisher is valueless. I'm saying that it doesn't have a significant value in the form of dollars that you're going to be able to squeeze out of it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
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  16. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I appreciate your advice, and you're giving me a lot to think about. I think I'm going to need some time to think about how I'm going to go forward now. I might open another thread later on about publishing once I get closer. In the meantime I'll see what else I can find online.

    I really want to write the story in question, but maybe it would be best to put it off until after I try a different story of more modest size. If I go for traditional publishing, it sounds like that might be the best approach.

    I might be rambling with this next bit, but I saw on one site by a publisher that their recommended approach was to at least try traditional publishing for a few years. Their reasoning was that even if you don't get published, you'll understand the system better and have more and better polished manuscripts under your belt if you decide to try self publishing later. After reading your thoughts on it, I think I might just try that approach.

    I want to be able to make a living writing, but I don't know enough about what goes on beyond the writing/editing/rewriting part to know if it's really right for me. I suppose I'll just have to go for it to experience it myself to find out. If it turns out it's not, then I'll still want to at least get what I've written out there, so I'll just self publish what I've got and be happy knowing I still accomplished something to be proud of.
     
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