Monday, March 21, 2011


There are tricks of every trade. Recently, I discovered that freezing cake layers before icing them provides a better surface for cake frosting resulting in a more professional looking finish. After blaming myself, the icing, the cake, my oven, etc., for years, this trick has become invaluable to an amateur baker like me. But like baking, novel writing has its tricks too.

When starting a novel, I have mentally sketched a basic storyline. My main characters have history and function within the story. After determining what POV fits and which character(s) will best tell the story to the reader, I start to write.

Sometimes, I may write the entire novel, but other times, I seek out critiques by my writing partners before I’m finished the first draft, and revise before finishing the manuscript. The later process, revising as I write, makes the process of finishing the first draft slow and tedious. But because I’m substantially improving the story as I go along, which may change how the story culminates, I am starting to like this method better than plowing through the first draft all at once.

What I’ve discovered through this process is the art of layering. If I add one line referring to the story’s environment, I can also create a connection between the characters and their physical reality. By adding this line, my character may react to the environment, adversely or not. It might also enhance the plot, but even if it doesn’t, it injects a realism into fiction that bolsters plausibility.

I’ve mastered revealing my main characters’ traits and nuances. But my secondary characters need work. Adding another layer of secondary characters’ identifiers, such as their speech, has forced me to get to know all of my characters well, which will enable the reader to recall them when they appear sporadically throughout the novel. When adding this layer, I can find specific actions for them in the story fitting those identifiers. Their newly created characteristics also may foster other functions within the story.

Adding details from real world research can detract if the story bogs down in detail, and yet those details add interest when presented in a slight of hand manner. Deciding which of those facts adds to the story without Michenerizing a novel can be tricky. Understanding how your novel fits into the real world can change scene location, titles used by characters, and procedures utilized by your novel’s fictitious authorities. This layering must be correct if used. Nothing blows credibility more than when the author includes real world references but doesn’t apply them correctly.

What are your most favorite secondary characters? What tricks have you found that add credence to your story?


Ricky Bush said...

I do believe that the old saying, "write what you know" should also include the phrase, "know what you write".

E. B. Davis said...

I agree Ricky, which means doing research and making sure that the scenes jive with reality. It's also the reason why I write amateur detective, paranormal and romance. My experience just doesn't support a police procedural novel. Thanks for dropping by. We're hoping for a sequel from you!

Pauline Alldred said...

I couldn't write a police procedural because I don't have the mindset or vocabulary. However, I do have police as secondary characters and their interactions with the main character are important. I once took a workshop with Lee Lofland. I find his book and blog helpful, especially his comments about Castle and Southland. Failing that, I could arrange to be arrested and write from real experience--just joking.

E. B. Davis said...

I've heard of authors who assume a character to get the experience. EQ presented a story like that recently where the mc in the story was an author, ran with a gang, got into trouble, but came out okay in the end. Don't think that's the way to go though, Pauline since it really is fiction!

Polly Iyer said...

I'm one who believes secondary characters are just as important as primary ones in a novel. How many times have you seen a movie and loved the supporting actors' work? In many cases, they make the movie. Same with a book. The secondary characters are the supporting roles. Sometimes they inject humor, sometimes they're the force behind the story. They need to be strong. I hope my secondary characters are as rich and fulfilling as my main characters. That's the way I want it.

E. B. Davis said...

I decided that I wanted more out of my secondary characters. They were well thought out, but weren't distinctive enough. I want instant recognition by the reader due to at least one characteristic that typifies them. Working on that layer now!

Warren Bull said...

And in my experience secondary characters may hen pop us with a story of their own to tell