Monday, June 20

Vive la difference

See? I was right about the blonde part.
Sometimes when Nan Reinhardt and I travel together or are just having lunch—which we can make into an Occasion, believe me—we get to talking about our differences. Our thinking is the same on so many things that we are sometimes startled by what’s not alike. Basic likenesses:
  • We were born in the same decade
  • In the same state
  • We have siblings
  • We’re writers
  • We love road trips
  • We drive SUVs
  • We wear aprons when we cook
  • We only cook when we have to
  • We have long marriages with men we still love
  • We like shoes
  • And purses
  • And Starbucks
  • And mom-and-pop restaurants
  • We have traveled together for several years now and never turned on the television set in a hotel room. We’re not sure they worked.
  • We’re both natural blondes

Okay, until we got to the last one, are you with me? And that’s just the beginning. But then there’s the other side. The Dark Side.
  • Nan is a city girl who likes for there to be noise, lights, and people around
  • I am a country girl who likes quiet, darkness, and privacy—I mean, people are good, but ¼ mile away is plenty close enough
  • She uses sweetener from pink packages—mine must be yellow
  • Our family dynamics are so different that sometimes we just look at each other and say, “Really?”
  • She doesn’t like salad dressing or pasta, whereas my day is incomplete if I don’t have one of those. It’s better if I have both.
  • While we both like driving, she doesn’t mind traffic. I don’t even like being second in line for a left turn.
  • Nan knits. I sew.
  • She loves to swim. I’m afraid of water.
  • She knows a lot about wine and how to choose it. I like pretty bottles and drink moscato. And the occasional rum and coke…
  • I’m really not a natural blonde. I think she is.

And now, the reason for these lists. Yes, there is one. It serves as a reminder that we need to make our people different from each other. Maybe you don’t have a problem with this in your writing, and I’m glad for you if you don’t, but I do. I don’t think it matters that much to many readers if your heroines and heroes are much alike from book to book—I for one count on my favorite authors’ protagonists being identifiable. But within the book, the best friends and the sisters and the college roommates and people-in-the-next-cubicles need to be as different as they are alike.

I want my books to have ensemble casts with whole bunches of likable characters. But I don’t want them to be all alike. For example, look at the casts of Happy Days, M*A*S*H, and The West Wing
(yes, that is how seldom I watch TV--those are still favorites). I loved each and every repeating character on those shows (with Frank Burns being a notable exception), and they had many likenesses among them. Just as important, though, were their differences.


If secondary characters don't matter to you, maybe those dissimilarities don't matter, either. If that's the case, I’m not sure you should listen to me on this (she said belatedly) because I’m one of those to whom secondary characters are as important as the better-represented hero and heroine. 

So. What do you think?

Have a great week.

Liz

22 comments:

  1. Agree, agree! One of my favorite parts in this crazy writing thing is figuring out how all the characters work off of and with and against each other.

    Great post, Liz!

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    1. Thanks, Kristi, and it is fun, isn't it? At least, when I'm not whining about it.

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  2. Love this insight into you and Nan😃 And I liked how you turned it around to character-building.

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    1. Thanks, Margie. Nan and I ARE great characters...especially her...just sayin'.

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  3. Excellent post! Love your "friendship" analysis and application.

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  4. So...confession...I'm not a real...oh, heck, never mind. Great post and I always love how you use real life to make writing analogies because honestly, isn't that what writing is all about? ((Hugs, baby!))

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  5. OF COURSE secondary characters matter! What would The Princess Bride be without Fezzik and Inigo, Count Rugen, Miracle Max and Valerie, or the Impressive Clergyman? You can't write (or film) a great story, without having a great cast of secondary characters.

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    1. I agree, but I've read some books (not mine) that were really lean on any characterization outside the hero and heroine. They worked, too.

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  6. Secondary characters are important. I recently had to pull excerpts from my second book and three involved a secondary character. Maybe because he is fun to make fun of??? Great post.

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    1. They are usually fun for one reason or another--and you don't have to have them on virtually every page, which certainly makes it easier!

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  7. I recently wrote a trilogy and loved writing the second and third novels because I was able to pull from fully-developed characters as secondary characters. I definitely agree with you--it *is* better when they're fully-formed and individual.

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    1. Thanks, Lori. I worry when I use them again because I'm afraid since I already know them so well I will forget the reader may not.

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  8. I totally think secondary characters are important. Kristan Higgins gave a talk on the topic at Spring Fling 2014. Raising my hand with a question, tho. How do you keep them all straight when you have multiple characters? Also, if you think readers should be able to identify a character by their dialogue, how do you do that authentically? Not asking much here on a Monday. lol

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    1. Not Liz, but I'll chime in - I find it helpful to keep a kind of character sketch available for the secondary as well as main characters. Not fully developed to the degree one of those character worksheets you see around, but a list of a few favorite things (movie/book, color, sport, etc), along with what the person looks like...those little things, I like, keep the seconardies' dialogue authentic because those are things they would reference in a conversation with the H/h.

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    2. Your opening comparison between you and Nan really drives your point home. I agree secondary characters are very important and need to have a unique personality and set of likes and dislikes. After all, you never know when one of those characters in the background will demand a story of their own.

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    3. I do get them mixed up sometimes, Cathy. When I wrote Every Time We Say Goodbye, I had two characters named Max and loved them both. Thankfully one of them was a dog and I was able to change it with the help of a reader.

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    4. It's always an exciting thought there in the back of my mind when I write them, Zara. I love your name!

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  9. Great post! My stories carry a theme that family is what you make. Lots of us don't have the biological family that supports us. So yeah, and ensemble. I'll add to your list. My husband and I have been binging on Flashpoint. What a great ensemble.

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    1. I'll have to watch for it. Thanks for coming by, Lynn!

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