Writing Musts: Use Your Characters Again

I don’t do this very often. Yes, blog (shush), but also follow up a previous must. In Use Your Characters, I extolled the virtues of being lazy, and by being lazy I mean using the characters you’ve already built up in ways that makes sense for them characters, instead of trying to force a new path through your story.

That’s still true, but there’s more.

My preferred style of storytelling is where multiple threads become entwined until they coalesce into something better than any of the individual strands. Side note, coalesce is also my favourite word, and it’s a damn-handy SQL function too. Back to writing though, and the real hard thing about doing multiple threads is they all need to carry their own weight. Each needs to be independently interesting so that the reader isn’t skimming through one to get to the thread they care about. You want them to care about all threads (though yes, recognise there’ll always be one they prefer).

I’ve been fairly open about struggling with the rewrite of For More Than Earthly Ends. I’ve made changes to pacing that I think improve both the story and the readability, however I reached a chapter where too much seemed to happen. I needed all of it, but the timescale ran through about an hour of lots of things happening at once, and with the formative stages still introducing a lot of new concepts, that didn’t work. The crux of what was going on was my first overlap between two threads, but happening while one was still being built. To get around that, I need to go back and rearrange the sequence of events so that by the time *that* first critical crossover happens, each thread is already established. To do that, each thread needs a driving force.

The overall story is about the end of the world (of sorts), and the ways in which people face that impending deadline. Each of the three threads revolves around a different way in which they come to terms (or don’t), with some characters doing so fine, and others not so much. In terms of the story’s world, everything that plays out ties to an event earlier in the world (but still concerning many of the major characters). I shared the first draft of that on my birthday last year. While my protagonist isn’t here (she comes later), each of the three threads comes from the characters involved in this prologue. What’s become clear is that while I’ve known two of the characters have been critical to the pursuits of two threads, driving forces, I’d not done justice to my third.

In trying to summarise the plot in an attempt to regather my thoughts, I saw that I’d originally failed to recognise how one successful path of avoidance had happened because of one of the characters here. In the ‘current’ era of the story, the woman simply known as Yvonne has since become the Director of the story’s space agency, spearheading a successful extrasolar campaign. This moment, this background almost-throwaway scene, is where she is galvanised. While her colleague struggles in moving past their shared trauma, she takes on her own words that got her through – “We’re not dying here.”

This is all in notes/planning now, but it’s now part of my setting all the same. Instead of her presence being a superfluous detail to a targeted space campaign, she’s the one responsible for it.

She’s not the only one that got the treatment. I did the same for each character in the prologue, but it’s the study of her that makes the biggest impact on the momentum of her thread.

All your characters are there for a reason. They all want something – if you work out what it is and why they’re there, they’ll carry their share of the story. Sometimes that’s enough to make the bit you’re carrying light enough to manage.

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