WHAT?! 005: Characters Everywhere!

WHAT?! is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column for the Creative and Perplexed. In which I answer burning questions about the creative process and what might be holding up that brain of yours. Send your questions to: hellodroolydog@gmail.com.

Dear Drooly Dog: I am a writer, and I have a story that I’ve worked on for about six months. In that time, the number of characters in my story seems to have grown exponentially. I just keep feeling like I need another one, and another one.
My problem is, now I’m not sure which character to focus on. There are many reasons why multiple characters could be the main character in the story. How do I choose? If I focus on one, I feel like I am missing out on the others. And I don’t like the idea of there being just this one character who is important, and all these others are just bit players or supporting the story.
What can I do to narrow this down? Help!
– Cast of Thousands

Dear Thousands:
Creating characters is great, isn’t it? I mean, all these lives and stories and wardrobes and all of it. It’s easy to fall in love with all of these people at the same time. In my case, I feel like my characters are people who don’t happen to have a body at the moment. I can’t explain it, but they are real people to me.
It sounds to me, though, like your issue might not be so much with characters as with stories. In other words, you may have more than one story trying to happen. A character really embodies a story, whether it’s the main focus or a spinoff or a side plot or what have you.
Have you tried breaking your cast list apart and letting the characters naturally fall into their own separate stories? Perhaps there are three that really want to run around together and solve crimes or go on the quest or whatever, and there are these other five who really want to do something else?
And, don’t worry about importance. You can always take a character you like and write them a back story or their own plot. I’ve done that with the Neptune Road stories. I broke out two characters, Philo and May, and let them go off somewhere. And then I spawned a whole other plot whose characters aren’t even in the original story, just because there was an aspect I wanted to explore.
Also: Look for tension or natural alliances among your characters. Are there certain ones who want to partner up? Do battle? Be each other’s biggest problem and/or greatest love? Let those pieces take shape and break the characters into groups accordingly.
And then just be sure to keep biographies and major life events handy for them all so you don’t get them mixed up or forget something important. And, don’t be afraid to let a few of them sit it out for a while and burst forth with their own story later.
Sincerely, Drooly Dog

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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