Friday, August 21, 2015

Best of the Archives: Secondary Characters are People Too

This post first appeared in April 2010. Comments are closed so enjoy working on your manuscripts. See you tomorrow for the Weekend Edition.

by Pam Hillman

Back in April 2010, I took on a project that was almost more than I could handle. What I thought would take a week, maybe two, turned into months.

Granted, at the time, I had a full-time job, took a week-long business trip, and had a family emergency that took up some of that time, but the “project” mushroomed bigger than I ever dreamed.
But it made my manuscript much, much better, so I’m not complaining.
So, let’s dive in.
I’m talking weaving existing secondary characters points of view (POV) into a manuscript that is already completed.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. Read on to find out why, and what I did to make it work.

If you have the slightest idea that you might add a second, third, or fourth POV into the manuscript you’re working, plan on it from the very beginning. Don’t assume you can just add that POV later.

My manuscript begged for additional POVs, but I didn’t write them into the story in the beginning. I finished it, and was very pleased with the outcome. But every so often, I’d be discussing length with someone and know that it could be 10-15K longer.
The story could tell more of the villian’s goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC), as well as one of the key secondary character’s GMC, which was a kid, btw (and a blog post for another day). And I really wanted to tell a little of this kid’s story.
But I put it off. And I put it off. For a very long time.

I reasoned that I  could add that part to the story with one hand tied behind my back, after I’d shopped it around at the current length. I already knew the kid's GMC, and it would only be a few pages tucked in here and there.

It would be fun. It would be easy.

So, I worked on a new story, shopping the this-needs-more-meat story, until an industry professional asked me to lengthen the manuscript.

Sure. Okay. No problem.

And it was very easy to start at the beginning and tuck in a scene here, one there, set the stage, etc., but by the time I got to the middle (why is it always the middle?), things got tricky. And by end, it became downright complicated.

Just like figuring out my hero and heroine’s GMC’s, I had to do the same for these two secondary characters. As long as they weren’t “on stage”, the reader could insert any kind of reasons for their actions, but once they had their own POV, that’s when the horse kicked over the traces.

Try adding in a key player's POV. You might be shocked at how it changes the way your story plays out.

I had a pretty solid story, but as I started adding in these additional POVs, I realized I had these guys doing some things that wouldn’t be true to character. This became really clear when the hero and heroine figure out who the bad guy is.

The whole section where the plot fell apart was only 15-20 pages long, but it needed to be rewritten to beef up the tension and be believable for all parties involved. The remaining pages didn’t require a complete rewrite, just some wrap-up scenes from the two new POVs.

Think of a secondary character in one of your manuscripts, someone who sways your protagonist, antagonist, or your plot in some way. Plot out their GMC, and even if you don’t actually give that person a POV role, if you’re like me, you’ll have a few aha moments where you realize the story isn’t quite what it needs to be.

Because you know what?

Secondary characters are people, too.

Back to August 2015....

That story was Stealing Jake. Almost a year to the date after the above post, I sold Stealing Jake to Tyndale House as part of their Digital First Initiative. Stealing Jake came out as an ebook in 2011 and has just released as a print book August 2015. My debut is now in print, and I couldn't be more excited.

STEALING JAKE by Pam Hillman. When Livy O’Brien spies a young boy jostling a man walking along the boardwalk, she recognizes the act for what it is. After all, she used to be known as Light-Fingered Livy. But that was before she put her past behind her and moved to the growing town of Chestnut, Illinois, where she’s helping to run an orphanage. Now she’ll do almost anything to protect the street kids like herself.

Sheriff’s deputy Jake Russell had no idea what he was in for when he ran into Livy―literally while chasing down a pickpocket. With a rash of robberies and a growing number of street kids in town―as well as a loan on the family farm that needs to be paid off―Jake doesn’t have time to pursue a girl. Still, he can’t seem to get Livy out of his mind. He wants to get to know her better . . . but Livy isn’t willing to trust any man, especially not a lawman.

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.