I’m afraid I have a blind spot which I didn’t recognize until after I’d entered several contests and received a lot of critiques. It’s usually impossible, or at least difficult, to see faults and failings in my own writing (or personality, for that matter.) That sure leaves me at a terrible disadvantage when it comes to improving a chapter or an entire manuscript.
Enough beating around the bush. I learned that I insert way too many characters into my first few chapters. I don’t know if it’s a problem unique to me or if others share this habit.
Since I write with only a barebones outline, I improvise as I go along. If my muse is awake and whispering in my ear, I scribble everything she tells me. Sometimes I include enough characters in the opening scenes to practically fill a whole series of books. When ‘people’ who pop into my head seem to enhance my story, I add them in and develop a subplot. Often they could use a book of their own. Sometimes they take over my story and drown out the voices of my hero and heroine. But I love the complicated plots these delightful people provide and I hate to eliminate them even though I can bring them to life again in their own story. But I want them to function now, in this manuscript.
At first one or two judges mentioned ‘too many characters’ with ‘too many goals.’ Huh? How could that be? I thought goals, motivations and conflict were crucial elements to include in a first chapter. Maybe the judges were nitpickers—or maybe they didn’t know as much as I did! (How do you like that for arrogance?! And I consider myself teachable and anxious to learn from others!) Maybe they didn’t understand that down the road these extra, but fascinating characters would enrich my story and help develop a complex, lively plot.
And then one day I received a revision letter which clearly suggested I combine superfluous characters and concentrate on the hero and heroine’s tale. Since I couldn’t object to the kind and helpful ideas of an editor, I cut and compromised. But low and behold, my manuscript improved. I didn’t need a cast of thousands to tell a story.
This ‘light bulb moment’ may seem insignificant and even obvious, but it made an enormous difference to my writing. Maybe some of you have had similar moments where comments from contest judges noted a weakness you didn’t know you had. So a big thank you to the judges who spot problem areas! And a big pat on the back to the writers who heed their advice.