February 27, 2020

A2Q Part Four—Story

Hello, again. Welcome back to this special series within the ranty blog, my ongoing attempt to show how we can go from a few basic raw ideas all the way to a finished book manuscript. Ready to dive back in?

This time I wanted to talk about my character’s story. Yeah, this is why I’ve been reluctant to describe the *cough* ongoing narrative of the manuscript as a story. For what we’re doing here, that word’s going to mean something specific.

If you’ve been following the ranty blog for any time at all, you’ve probably heard me make this distinction once or thrice. Plot is what happens outside my characters, story is what happens inside my characters. My plot is a progression of external changes, but the story is a progression of internal changes. You may have heard people (maybe me) toss around phrases like “character arc,” and that’s closely related to the story.

Plot takes us from normal events to amazing ones and then gives us some kind of resolution, right? Well story is going to take my character from the person they start out as at the beginning of my manuscript through some kind of growth and development to a new normal. The person they’ve grown into, the more educated, wiser person they’ve become.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean some massive, epic change. I don’t need Republicans to become Democrats, villains to become heroes, saints to become arch-heretics. I think if people change too much, especially over a short period of time, it’s tough to make it believable.

But if my characters don’t grow and change at least a little bit during the story, I think things tend to feel a bit flat. Our heroine realizing Wakko isn’t really the one for her is growth. Dot finally standing up to her abusive boss is change. Yakko realizing maybe it’s not all about the money is an arc.

I’ll also toss out that when I’m getting hung up on stuff in a book, I’d guess maybe four out of five times I realize it’s because I’m neglecting the story. My characters sort of flattened out because I haven’t figured out how they’re growing. or I haven’t done anything in the story to make them grow. I rewrote the end of one book because I realized the first ending completely neglected the main character’s story.

Let’s start breaking this down…

I think there are four parts to a person’s story. They’re not super-solid, and they kinda flow and overlap a bit. That’s only natural. We’re talking about who people are on the inside, and most people (the interesting ones, anyway) tend to be a big mess of overlaps and contradictions. Plus, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but right now is the first time I’ve tried to put it all down. So, yes, this post you’re reading has been rewritten and tweaked a hundred times or so.

In my opinion, the first part of a character’s story is who they are when the story begins, which we could think of as their history or backstory. Second is why they decide to take action, a lot of which is their motivation. Third is how they’re made to change, which leads into the fourth and final bit—who are they in the end.

Worth noting right now that if I have multiple heroes in my manuscript, they’re all going to have their own story. Maybe even some of my supporting characters, too. And my antagonist. I want my characters to be real, interesting people, which means they need to grow and learn things. So when I’m writing a book, I’m going to be going through these beats more than once, with different characters each time.

Let’s talk details.

The first part of the story is… the starting point. Who is my character when my story begins? Are they mean? Submissive? Stingy? Self-absorbed? What about them stands out and what makes them blend in?

Another way to think of it is why are they this character when the story begins. What’s happened in their past to make them the person they are on page one? Because unless I’m starting very, very early in their lives, they had an existence before page one. They had incidents and events and relationships.

To be clear—and I’ve said this a few times before—this doesn’ t mean I need to spell all these details out. If they’re relevant, they’re going to come out naturally as I tell my story. I don’t have to do a massive infodump and get every little fact of my character’s existence on the page. But, as the writer, I need to know them and be sure my characters are consistent throughout the story, always reflecting the experiences that made them the people they are… and not the bit of backstory I just thought to bring up a hundred pages in.

Let’s use Phoebe, for an example. She’s our lead character, right? Well, when we first meet her, she’s maybe going to be a little on the uptight side. Because of her parents’ death a few years ago, she’s been shouldering a lot of responsibility. There’s her sister, Luna, who’s she responsible for. There’s also carrying on the family tradition of werewolf hunting, which maybe also wasn’t what she grew up wanting to be, but… it’s tradition. Imagine getting both of these things thrust on you when you thought you were going to be heading off to college. And it’s an inherently dangerous job, so doing it is constantly reminding her that if she gets hurt, Luna’s going to lose everything.

Phoebe probably focuses a little too much on money because of all this. She doesn’t exactly earn piles of money for hunting werewolves, and she’s supporting her sister, so it’s going to be something she focuses on a lot. Heck, maybe she’s even got a second job? Make a note of that somewhere—in a world where everyone knows werewolves are real, maybe she still has to run a cash register twenty-seven days out of every month.

And would it be that shocking if… well, maybe she’s carrying some anger and resentment, too. Yeah, she loves Luna. She loved her parents. But, if they hadn’t gotten themselves killed, if they hadn’t stuck her with Luna, if they hadn’t made her part of this whole family dynasty going back 400 years… jeeeez, where would she be now.

So that’s where Phoebe’s starting from.

The second part of story is why my characters decide to take action. What about who they are right now motivates them to take part in the plot when the opportunity arises? Why aren’t they one of the thousands of people who aren’t taking part in the narrative?

This one’s going to be important because this’ll probably be the first significant decision we see our character make. And we’re going to expect a lot of the decisions that follow (this is just a simplified version of the story after all) will all line up and make sense with the character as we know them. So I need a solid, believable motivation behind this bit of in-character reasoning. The last thing I want is a plot zombie (very cool term, copyright 2018 A. Lee Martinez) who’s only acting in service of the plot, not out of any actual developed character traits.

I’ll also toss out that there are very basic motivations it’s tempting to fall back on. We all want to survive, so running away from a lunging werewolf makes absolute, perfect sense. Boom—we’re in the story, right? The catch here is that we don’t want characters who are going to do what anyone would do. We want them to make an active decision, not a reactive one. This doesn’t mean I can’t begin with my hero running for their life, but I’m going to want a little more to it than that.

For example, on one level this part is a little easier for Phoebe. She’s a werewolf hunter and there’s a new breed of werewolf out there. It’s a different element in her job, but it’s still pretty clearly her job. There’s a werewolf, she goes to hunt it, boom—we’re in the story.

But we want her to be making active decisions, so how can we tweak this a bit? Well, when she tried to dispatch this werewolf, a silver crossbow bolt to the heart did nothing. What if nobody believed her? Her shot probably just missed, right? That’s what everyone’s going to think. Hell, that’s what that bastard Luc is going to tell everyone. So this is a matter of pride for her to prove the super-werewolf is real

Maybe there’s even a little more to it than that. Maybe someone at the lodge believes her, or is at least willing to humor her for now. And maybe they’ll pay an extra $2500 dollars for the bounty if she brings in a lycanthrope body that shows a definitive mutation. Well, now Phoebe’s got serious motivation to get that werewolf… and to get it before Luc. I mean, $2500 is two months rent and utilities covered. Like, full utilities. Leaving some lights on and taking lots of hot showers. Really long, hot showers.

So now Phoebe’s got a good reason to get into my plot.

Our third part is change. What’s going to happen in the plot that’ll make my character rethink things? I’ve brought up this idea before, that I think plot tends to be active while story overall is reactive. My characters can act on the outside stuff, but a lot of internal stuff is much harder to control.

Look at it this way. Nobody wakes up one morning and spontaneously decides to change their view on gun control or open relationships or Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four movie. Outside forces affect and influence them. They experience things, and these things help them—often force them—to change their opinion.

In the same way, the things my character experiences within the plot are going to change them internally. That change will be part of their story, which then means they’re going to be making different decisions and reacting in new ways as the plot continues. It’s kind of a feedback loop. Make sense?

Let’s look at Phoebe again. Last time I mentioned that her sister’s going to be a legal adult soon, and that’s probably causing some friction in the household. Phoebe’s been responsible for Luna for years now, and that’s coming to an end. Is it a relief? Does she feel guilty that she’s relieved? Has she done a good job raising her sister?

We also talked about the other big issue. Luna is the super-werewolf. Why? How? Phoebe’s whole job—that whole big family tradition—is killing werewolves. So is she protecting the family name by killing Luna or by not killing Luna. And this really drives home that all these werewolves have been somebody’s kid sister or big brother or loving parent. Yeah, some of them were actual, secret monsters, reveling in what they’d become, but how many of them were just victims? Her victims?

And this will also introduce some conflict at the lodge. We can guess how most of the elders think her “purely hypothetical” problem should be resolved. Or how Luc would deal with it.Also, maybe something else at the lodge. Maybe we should be looking at the work/family overlap of exactly what happened to her parents. This could be another place to wedge in some conflict and break some trusts. Let’s make another note to poke at this some more. I think this could be something really world-changing for Phoebe.

Also-also, do I want her to change on a more personal level? I’d mentioned possible love interests last time, but as I’ve been thinking about it… no, no I don’t think so. She was already thinking relationships were going to overcomplicate things before all this happened, so during it? No, I don’t think so. I’m not against planting some seeds for much later (hey, this might start a series), but I think in the interpersonal department, Phoebe’s just going to keep doing things (and random bar patrons) the way she’s always been. For now, anyway.

Our final part is the end of our character’s story. Who have they become? Who did this series of events turn them into? How did it help them grow? In some cases this might be really clear. In others, it might be more subtle. But I’m a big believer that in most good books we need to see some change and growth in our characters.

The reason for this, I think, is that it’s tough for us to believe as people (and readers) that someone can go through a major, life-altering event and not, well, have their life altered. After I’m recruited by that nymphomaniac heiress to fight cyborg ninjas from the future for two weeks, it’s tough to believe I’m just going to go back to my life as an insurance risk analyst. Even if I want to, I’ve seen and experienced things that’ve changed me and probably made it impossible to fall back into that same old rut. I no longer think or react like that person I used to be.

Now, I don’t have a ton to say about this part for a couple of reasons. Really, it’s all the same reason, but I want to come at it from two different angles. Hopefully that’ll make it easier to see.

One is when we talk about these changes, we’re talking about a butterfly effect sort of thing. Tiny differences then can make big differences down the line. I may have a general idea how I want my character to end up, but I probably won’t know exactly how they end up until I’m writing this. That end change is going to depend on all the different experiences and talks that come before it, and I may realize that writing out this key bit of dialogue with a few different words and a slightly different tone leads to a somewhat different take at the end. It’s easy to plan out the end of a plot, not quite so easy with story. That’s what I’ve found anyway.

The flipside of this is that if I absolutely 100% know what I want that end change to be (“…and so Wakko became a proud defender of the second amendment for the rest of his days…”) there’s a good chance I’m writing a story with a message. By which I mean the message is probably more important to me than the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with this, in general, but I don’t want to end up twisting my story to make it all fit the story ending I want. That almost always makes things feel artificial, forced, and unearned.

Looking at Phoebe again, I know I want to end with her looking at her sister in a new light, possibly a full role-reversal for them (yeah, her sister’s going to survive). I also know I want to end with her estranged from the lodge and feeling very different about her job as a werewolf hunter, but being okay with that. So I know she’s coming out of this in a better place mentally even if some of her initial worries haven’t been dealt with.

Story in four parts. Make sense? Any questions?

Want another example? Okay, let’s take a quick look at Phoebe’s sister, Luna, who’s going to be one of our other major characters. Luna’s basic four part story would probably be something like this…

Luna starts as a pretty typical teen. Big dreams, good-sized rebellious streak, and a wild mix of interacting hormones. Had a serious boyfriend or two. Maybe a girlfriend, too. She and Phoebe have a love-hate relationship that’s been more or less forced on them by the situation they’ve been forced into. They both want the fun, loving relationship they used to have, but also know why they can’t right now. Also, I think I’m going to say right up front that Luna is the werewolf at this point but doesn’t know it. She just knows there’s some weird changes going on in her body that she’s writing off as end-of-puberty hormones and/or end-of-this-phase-of-you-life stress.

Her big actions, closely related, are admitting to herself she’s a werewolf (with all it implies), hiding it for a while (because she’s a teenager who knows what her sister does for a living), and then confessing it to Phoebe (with all it might mean). She’s not in the family business yet, but she knows enough that eventually she can’t deny what these weird mornings mean. There’s only so many times you can wake up naked in the garden with dirty feet—you’re either a werewolf or you have a serious drinking problem (maybe both). When she hears her sister talking about the hunt, how dangerous the beast is, Luna’s going to realize how much of a risk she poses, to herself and to Phoebe, if she’s allowed to run free.

How will these decisions change her? Well, at first she’ll become much more secretive and nervous, which can get interpreted a bunch of different ways. Once she confesses to Phoebe, there might be even more fear, but this will eventually become relief, and she’ll be a lot more open with her sister than she’s been in ages. About a bunch of things. She’s also going to feel better about herself once their discussions confirm she’s not a doomed-to-be-evil monster. She’s going to have a purpose.

Who does this make her in the end? She’s going to be more mature, a little more responsible (in some areas, anyway). And she’s going to have a very, very different view of all these lodge folks she’s known for most of her life. “You know who your real friends are when X happens and most people…”

So that’s my completely untested, four step guide to story, our character’s internal journey. If you want a little more, it’s a topic I’ve talked about a few times here (as I mentioned up at the top). Please feel free to hit the assorted links and hopefully I haven’t contradicted myself too much anywhere.

Also, there’s a good chance you’re already doing a lot of this without thinking about it.

Next time on the ranty blog, I’d like to talk a bit about length.

Next time for the A2Q, which will be in two weeks, I want to talk about my book’s setting.

Until then… go write.

April 4, 2019

Shadow Agency

This week—requests are granted!
Also, as you may have noticed, the majority of responses I got in comments/ tweets/ DMs/ etc were in favor of the new layout, so I’m going to stick with it for now.

A few weeks back someone asked about characters.  How do I get a sense of who they are.  How do I make sure when they do something it’s what they’d do instead of just what the plot (and by extension—I ) want them to do?
Okay, these are two related-but-different questions.  Let’s look at each of them on their own, then figure out that relationship-overlap.  Which I think is what we’re aiming for with this request.

Also, because there’s a lot to unpack here, expect a lot of links to previous posts.  I don’t want to bury you in too much rehashed stuff.  You’re here for exciting hot takes on the art of writing, yes?
First off, how do I get a sense of who my characters are as individuals?  What makes them unique?  What makes them stand out?
One thing would be their general backstory and personal preferences.  If I’ve got a character—especially one of my main characters or important supporting ones—I should know a lot about them.  And I’m talking about me, the author.  For almost all of my characters, there are things I know about them that never make it into the books.  Maybe it’s about their relationship with their parents, their worst class in school, or their favorite bands.  It can be games they play, people they’ve slept with, or their first car.  A lot of this sounds like weird stuff, yeah, but all of this says a little something about who someone is, which means it’s going to affect how they react to the world around them.
There’s also their voice.  The way people phrase things and the words they choose.  Their background will have an effect on how they act, and it’s also going to effect how they talk. This is one of the easiest ways to make characters distinct on the page (or in an audiobook).
Also, I could think about how people react to this character.  Do folks wince at the sound of Dot’s voice?  Do they instinctively lean away from Wakko?  Do they lean toward Phoebe?  And are people right to react this way, or is it because they know something else that we don’t?

All of this should give me a really good sense of who my character is.  Again—I probably won’t use all of it.  I may never see Yakko stumbling through a date or listening to music or reminiscing about his old VW Bug.  But these are all the little elements that help move a character from a basic stereotype and into actual, memorable person-hood.
Okay, the second part of all this is about these characters making decisions. 
There’s a term you may have heard around the interwebs called agency.  It first appeared back in the 1700s, when people were having Enlightening discussions about philosophy and sociology.  At its simplest, agency refers to free will.  Can a person make their own choices and affect the world around them?  How much does the world they exist in restrict that ability to make choices?  If I can’t travel alone, vote, or choose who to love… do I have free will, or just the appearance of free will?  Do people in prison have free will?  Free will may have gotten them there—or maybe the conditions forced on them by society did—but now they have almost no freedom to make choices at all, so…?  Is there a point where I no longer have free will?

Anyway, that’s all heavy stuff.  It’s a little different (and easier) for us when we’re talking about agency in a literary sense. Fictional entities don’t have free will because they’re… well, they don’t actually exist.  But as a writer, I need to make my readers believe these characters are real people who are having an actual affect on the world around them.  They need to do things, and these things need to matter.

If cowards are suddenly going to leap forward and be brave, there should be a clear reason.  If a cold person falls madly in love, we should understand why and how.  If someone decides to open the spooky mystery box after it’s killed half their friends… well, we should be with them on this, even if we don’t like it.

Yeah, sure, it’s possible to make inconsistent decisions or choices that move the plot forward.  We’ve all seen it happen.  The wonderful A. Lee Martinez(he of the Constance Verity books and the Save The Movies podcast) came up with plot zombie a little while ago to explain this.  It’s when characters are only acting in service of the plot, not out of any actual developed or established character traits.

This is, just to be clear, a bad thing.

Y’see, Timmy, my characters need to face challenges and need to respond to them.  They need to make choices—ones that are consistent with who they are.    And the results of these choices should have a real affect on how the story plays out. 

Because if they’re not… Well, then they’re not really doing anything. They’re just empty puppets.  Not even the good kind of puppets.  They’re just sock puppets that I’m using to try to convince my readers this is a real story. 

So make your characters do things.  In character.

Next time, I’d like to look at some things from a different angle.
Until then, go write.
October 19, 2017

Center of Attention

            This week I wanted to blather for a minute about an unusual character/structure issue that I see come up now and then.  It’s one of those kinda basic ideas that can actually be difficult to spot.  Or explain.  And, to be honest, it’s something I’m dealing with a bit in my current book.
            I’ve talked before about protagonists.  How my main character should be the main focus of the story, the ones we’re spending the most time with.  Secondary characters should be secondary.  Background characters should kinda blur into the background. This all sounds straightforward, right?  I think we all understand this.
            A mistake I sometimes see is when every other character in the story immediately recognizes this character as the protagonist.  They all stop doing their own, natural thing and start treating the main character as… well, the center of things.  The character stops moving through the plot, and instead the plot begins to revolve around them.
            Let me give you an example…
            A few weekends back, one of my random movies was about a guy (we’ll call him Yakko) who wanted to propose to his girlfriend.  Had the ring and everything.  Thing was, said girlfriend got roped into being in charge of some office team-building thing up in the mountains. She had to cancel their plans for the weekend, unless…  He was an experienced camper/hiker and he had a big SUV—if he wanted to drive they could still kinda spend the weekend together.  Yakko thinks about it, decides sure, he can propose up by the lake, and agrees to help out.
            Thing was… as soon as their group got together and started driving up into the mountains, everyone started to defer to Yakko.  All the office folk who’d never met him before.  That jerk Evan from accounting.  Even his girlfriend, the one who was supposedto be in charge.  Suddenly the protagonist was the boss and nobody questioned it… or even mentioned it.
            This isn’t really surprising, on one level, that writers end up doing this.  If I want my character to be active and do things, they need to be in a position to do things, right?  Their decisions need to count and have an effect on the plot.  There’s a reason most of the Star Trek shows are about command officers and not the enlisted crew.  It’s tough to be active when everything about my position requires me to defer to someone else.
            Of course, the answer to this isn’t for me to have the unconnected boyfriend suddenly become the key figure on the teambuilding trip.  Or for the junior crewman to take command of Deep Space Nine.  Just because someone’s the center of attention in my story doesn’t make them the center of attention in theirstory.  There’s other stuff going on in the world and structures in place.  The wheels are in motion, as some folks like to say.  I may focus my story on an Army private, but that doesn’t mean suddenly everyone in the military should defer to that private just because she’s the protagonist.  The Army has a whole chain of command that would… well, kinda stop that from happening.
            How often in your own life have you had something to do, something important to say, and people just brushed you off or ignored you or talked over you?  It’s happened to me countless times.  Hell, it just happened yesterday on the phone with the bank.  It’s my life, but for some reason everyone else refuses to treat me as the most important person in it.
            Now, I can already hear people typing frantically in the comments, ready to explain three or seven ways that everyone in the US Armed Forces could end up deferring to a private.  And sure, it could happen.  Anything could happen. That’s the joy of fiction.
            Y’see, Timmy, if I’m going to do it, that explanation has to be part of my story.  It can’t be something that just happens, that I gloss over.  That’s lazy writing. That’s me writing myself into a corner and then smashing a hole in the wall rather than figuring a way out.
            I’ve talked about a similar idea before—the idea that I’m telling the right story.  It’s a weird idea, I know, but if I’ve set up a situation that requires a lot of stretching of conventional norms… well, I have to explain that stretching.  Why are we all deferring to the boss’s boyfriend?  Who put that crewman in charge of the Defiant?  Why is the general insisting everyone follow the private’s orders?
             Is my main character someone who’s going to be able to navigate my plot?  Is their social status, financial status, employment, or health going to be an unbelievable (or maybe flat up impossible) hindrance to the story I’m trying to tell?  If they aren’t, I’m probably going to need to explain or justify a lot of things.
            Or maybe I’m just focusing on the wrong person.
            In my current project, the main character is the fish out of water.  My ignorant stranger.  She’s the new kid on the job, and this means she’s pretty far down the totem pole.  So… why does she end up in the important meetings once the crisis occurs?  How is she an active person, making decisions that affect the story when there are so many people above her making their own decisions?
            It’s taking a bit of work.  But I’m making it happen.  Hopefully in a believable way.
            Next time, I wanted to talk about the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.

            Until then… go write.

November 5, 2015 / 2 Comments

Do Something

             Remember, remember, the fifth of November…
            So, at the risk of possibly getting some grumbly comments, I wanted to talk for a little bit about a new buzzword I see popping up more and more often.  Agency.  Journalists and critics are latching onto it to talk about characters (often women and people of color, but I’ve seen it applied to characters of all genders and races). Like so many buzzwords, though, I rarely see it defined by the folks using it.
            Which, of course, makes it easier for them to use…
            This is a bit misleading, though. Agency isn’t a new word. It’s actually a fairly old sociology term (from the Enlightenment) that’s migrated into literature.  Well, migrated’s a bit misleading, too.  Maybe it was chloroformed and woke up tied to a chair, unsure what it was doing here.
            In a sociological and philosophical sense, agency refers, in simple terms, to free will. Can a person make their own choices and affect the world around them?  How much does the world or society they exist in constrain that ability to make choices? Does it cancel out free will altogether, or just the appearance of free will?  Is there a point where I no longer have free will?
            While this is fascinating stuff to debate over drinks, it doesn’t really have anything to do with literature.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, when I’m writing, I’m more or less the god of this little world I’m creating.  And I’m a micro-managing god, too.  None of the characters move, speak, or have a single thought without my say-so.  There is no free will. Zero.  Because I’m creating all of it.  Every sentence, every idea, every word, every punctuation mark.  It all comes from me.
            Okay, in all fairness, some of the punctuation comes from my beta-readers and copyeditor.
            When critics and literary pundits talk about characters having agency, at the core they’re talking about something we’ve addressed here many times. A a writer, I need to make my readers believe these characters are people who are having an actual effect on the story.  My characters shouldn’t be window dressing, they need to do things.  If I’m going to make a point of Wakko or Yakko or Dot being in my story, then there should be an actual reason they’re in the story.
            I read a book a while back that was your standard “chosen one shall save us” sort of thing.  A young girl—we’ll call her Phoebe—discovers her birthright and powers, must go into hiding, has to fight off enemies she didn’t know she had, needs to learn how to harness and direct her abilities.  We’ve all seen this a few dozen times at this point, right?
            Except… well, Phoebe didn’t really do anything.  She didn’t discover her powers, she learned about them from her parents.  She didn’t decide to go into hiding, she was told to go—pretty much forced.  There were two guardians who fought off the enemies for her (one actually sacrificed himself so she could get away).  Hell, when Phoebe finally got to the Tabernacle and began to train, people were even walking her through that.  She just kind of stood around looking dazed and confused.  Phoebe didn’t make an actual, independent decision about something until page 114.
            Not exactly inspirational, that chosen one.  In fact, for those first 113 pages Phoebe could’ve been a duffelbag full of towels all the other characters were handing off to one another.  She just didn’t do anything.
            Y’see, Timmy, my characters need to face challenges and need to respond to them.  They should make choices—ones that are consistent with who they are.  They need to be active, with their own thoughts and opinions.  And they should have a real affect on how the story plays out.
            Here’s a simple test we can perform.  Let’s say I scribble out a two or three page summary of my current novel or story or screenplay (choose which one applies to you).  I want to be as thorough as possible without changing how I’m telling the story.  So I put all the introductions, reveals, explanations, and so on in the same order they appear in the book.  Make sense?
            Okay, so let’s look at this.  What characters did I mention? Which ones did I skip over?  Reading through my summary, I mention Eli, Harry, Zeke, Theo, and Fifteen.  I don’t mention Eli’s childhood friends by name, the bus driver, the cashier, or the cigarette man.  That’s because they’re all supporting and background characters.  By nature of the beast, they should be a little more… well, two dimensional.  They’re the stepping stones and redshirts of our story, so we’re not going to focus on them too much.
           So let’s look at the characters we made a point of mentioning and naming.  These should all be important to the story, right?  Every one of them is key somehow.
            Now, take one of them out.
            If these are actual characters who are supporting the plot and making things happen, my story should fall apart without them.  If Dot can step in and immediately pick up the slack from Wakko’s absence… well, he can’t have been that important to things.  If nothing at all changes when Yakko vanishes, he definitely wasn’t important.  And if they’re not important, if they’re not having an effect… I really need to ask myself why they’re here.
            So do great stuff with your characters.  By having them do stuff.
            Next time… I’d like to talk about the bug problem.

            Until then, go write.