Thursday, June 27, 2019

Using Side Characters to Support a Story

Hello, Alley Pals! Laurie here, and I'm fresh off of my first significant vacation from work in a long time. What do you do when you have a three-week window until summer school? You read ALL. THE. THINGS. But alas, even during an intentional brain break, the writerly way of thinking never shuts off. So here is some fresh perspective from a (somewhat) rested, book-binged brain.

If you're like me and have fleshed out all your plot points, hit all the right arcs, and still find your story missing a little somethin-somethin, I encourage you to ask yourself this question:

How can the side characters make this story better?

Enough said.
It was the "supporting cast" that amped up the books I read during my hiatus. Like buying a gray Explorer and suddenly seeing that 60% of all the people on your side of town drive gray Explorers. Once I realized how much the side characters in a series I loved MADE the series, I couldn't unsee it in the next books I read. And here's my theory why they're important:
  • The qualities of side characters bring out the good or bad qualities of the protagonist, either by comparison or because their opposite traits make it more obvious (like a literary foil you learned about in senior English class).
  • The way a protagonist interacts with side characters shows his/her true colors. That jaded brute's soft side can come out in the care with which he treats his grandmother. The mean girl everyone believes is super sweet's true colors show when her private snippy conversation with her best friend is accidentally overheard. 
  • The side characters can also amplify a story's setting. Two words: Stars Hollow. The Gilmore Girls series and any other set in a small town (Hello, Melissa Tagg's Maple Valley) wouldn't be the same without the token town grump or that eccentric busybody. 
  • In addition to bringing dimension and entertainment to a plot, supporting characters often deliver important truth to help a protagonist grow and move the story along.  

Some questions to ask when plumping up your supporting cast: 
  • What are my characters' history together and is their dialogue informed by that? Do they have inside jokes or fight like brothers or finish each other's sentences?
  • What traits/flaws/weaknesses/strengths in the protagonist can the side characters amplify to strengthen the plot? Does this conflict foreshadow future changes or events? Do their interactions build reader sympathy for the protagonist and/or her mission in this story?
  • Have I built the camaraderie between these characters enough throughout the story to support this important heart-to-heart conversation?
  • Are my side characters organically developed or have I essentially info dumped about their backstory to the point that it bogs down this scene? Related: do I *show* through dialogue and intentional beats not *tell* through superfluous exposition? 
Who are your favorite ensemble casts or supporting characters? What do you enjoy about their interactions?


Laurie Tomlinson is the award-winning contemporary romance author of That’s When I KnewWith No Reservations, and The Long Game, currently featured in the Once Upon a Laugh novella collection. She believes that God’s love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles.
You can connect with her on her WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

#TipfulTuesday Scenes That Propel Story

#TipfulTuesday Scene Setting Tips
(The bridge in the photo is significant for this to the end to see why)

When the story scene moves to a new location, the writer provides a brief description, transporting the reader there.

The point of today's post is to show the flaw in that statement.

Yes, each new scene should have a description. 

Brief at first. More revealing as action and dialogue quickly take over. Readers want to know if they are underwater, on a mountaintop, in an office room, a small town, etc. This is essential for storycraft.

So, what is the error in the introductory sentence to this post?

"The writer provides."

Setting the scene will look very different depending on the POV character, and as a result, sets the tone and so much more. It's true!

Say, for example, the scene is in a living room. This is the first time this living room has been in the story.

The POV character is a female detective. Her boyfriend left for Italy with another woman on a business trip this morning. He didn't say goodbye. A body is on the floor. When the detective walks into the room does she first see the body or the Italian deco? Well, that would depend on where her mind is at that moment. Is she in the job? Then the body. If she struggles with her relationship, then the deco. 

Both will be described in this scene because both are essential. The Italian deco lets readers see more than just a body and carpet. Naturally, hidden clues can only be seen if the description takes readers beyond the body. Still, readers want to know more about the crime. Who died? A child, a woman, a man with a mask and a gun in his hand, etc.?

The first descriptive sentences of a scene propel the story forward, indicating exactly where the POV character's focus is. The first also tends to go deeper for that very reason.

Therefore both answers can be correct. It simply depends on the forward momentum of this story at this time. 

 A great resource for more information is, Kathy Tyers Writing Deep Viewpoint.

Do you have questions?

Oh, and the Venetian bridge in the photo served as the last view a prisoner received of the world before guards took him or her to prison. Can you image their POV when looking out this window? Changes the way you first looked at this photo. Right?

~Mary Vee
Photo taken in Venice, by Mary Vee

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Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter