Newbie Writing Fail: The Billion Character Book

One day, after I became a bestselling author, I dragged out the first Romance manuscript I'd ever finished. Secretly, I had always believed that novel was the most wonderful story in the world. In my not-so-humble opinion, every New York editor who' d rejected it was a numbskull. 

Yes, picture me, gloating in all my new-found glory. Because I had become a writing success, I figured that I could make a quick sale by polishing that first manuscript.  I slipped on my bunny slippers, fixed myself a cup of hot cocoa, and turned to page one, prepared for a fabulous read. 

"I should be finished editing this novel before supper," I confided to my faithful writing companion (my cat.)

Mystery Wkshts_Colorful-Characters_NovelsThen came my reality check.

Somewhere around Chapter 6, I began to wonder where my hero was.   

By Chapter 8, even I was becoming confused by the pageant of people, who were parading through my story. I seemed to be introducing a new character in every scene. 

By Chapter 9, I was actually starting to skim my own masterpiece! "Who are all these characters in my Romance novel?” I thought irritably.

I tell you this story because many of the fiction-writing students whom I coach fall into the same newbie writing trap.

The middle of a book can sag for many reasons; however, a common error among new writers is to allow an interesting, secondary character to overshadow a protagonist.  In other words, you stop telling the hero's story. 

Why would you do this?

Well, in my case, I had become so bored with my goody-two-shoes hero, that I had developed secondary characters, with lots of angst and personality quirks, to entertain myself.

Has your hero disappeared from your story for more than one consecutive scene?  Then you’ve probably fallen into this newbie writing trap.

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Another sign of this problem is when you feel like you need to give a voice — or viewpoint — to some character other than the hero.  If you are constantly jumping into another character's head to tell the story, then your original protagonist has probably turned into a cardboard caricature.  The solution is to beef up his internal conflict on a scene-by-scene basis. While you're at it, make sure you have written clear goals and motivations for every character in every scene.

No matter what kind of fiction you are writing, you must always keep in mind that you are telling the hero's story.  Your reader started the novel because she wanted to live under the skin of your protagonist —not his sidekick, and certainly not some minor walk-on character, like a waitress! 

Need help with your novel?  I'm accepting a limited number of applicants for my one-on-one mentorship program for fiction writers. Learn more here.

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