October 14, 2021 / 2 Comments

Supporting Spaghetti

Oh, back again so soon? Well, I guess that’s as much on me as it is on you. But I did have another thought I wanted to bounce off you.

This is something I’ve seen several times in books and in bad B-movies, but it only recently struck me what was actually going on. How the storytellers were twisting things in a really unnatural way to solve a problem. So this may make you (and me) look back at some older posts I’ve done in a slightly different light..

But first, let’s talk about pasta.

I got into cooking during the pandemic. Started watching lots of cooking videos. Trying some things that were kind of new and daring for me. Maybe some of you did too. I’ve found all the prep and cooking kept my mind off other things but still working in creative ways. And now I can make really good stir-fried noodles.

Speaking of noodles, you’ve probably heard of the spaghetti test. When it’s cooked properly and ready to eat, you can throw a strand of spaghetti at the wall and the moisture and starches and, I don’t know, pasta epoxy will make it stick. If it isn’t done cooking yet, it just falls off or does a slow downward tumble like one of those Wacky Wall Walkers.

There’s another phrase you may have heard which grew out of this spaghetti test. “Let’s throw it at the wall and see what sticks.” It shows up a lot in the development stages of all sorts of things. We’ve got thirty ideas and we don’t know which one’s going to work? Well, let’s just do allof them. We throw all the spaghetti at the wall—the whole pot—and everything that sticks is good and ready to go and whatever doesn’t… isn’t. Sound familiar?

I think most of us have tried this sort of blunt, brute force approach on something. I know I’ve rewritten conversations severaltimes to see if it works better with Yakko taking the lead, or Dot, or Wakko, or Phoebe, or… who’s that guy? Let’s see what happens if he takes the lead in this. Same thing with names. Holy crap, Murdoch in Terminus went through sooooo many different names. Sometimes for whole drafts, sometimes just for a page or three. But then I found Murdoch and it was perfect.

Thing is, there’s a weird sort of flipside to this. Or maybe an inverse? Freaky mutant bastard offspring? Anyway, I talked a while back about shotgun art, and I think this is what’s going on here.

Sometimes, in books and movies, we’ll see storytellers who just pile on the characters. One after another after another, many of them with only the thinnest connection to the main plot. It’s the cousin of the best friend of a supporting character in one plot thread. Or, y’know, even less than that. I read one story where we spent two whole chapters with a character who’s only purpose was to bump into one of the main characters in a third chapter. That was it. She served no other purpose in the story except to be that two page delay in his day And, y’know, fill out the page count a bit.

What struck me a few weeks back is when storytellers are doing this—layering on dozens of simple, almost stereotypical characters and conflicts—is they’re taking the spaghetti approach and just throwing everything at the wall. Rather than developing any of these characters or elements to any degree, they’re just giving us lots and lots of quick, shallow ones. I mean why spend time making a complex character when I could just create fivecharacters with only one character trait each? It’s so much less effort, right? I mean, ex-wife, former best friend, alcoholic rival, pregnant woman, aggressive military guy—there’s got to be something there that strikes a chord with my reader, right?

That example I gave up above? The woman who served no purpose except to bump into one of the protagonists? She was late for work. That was it. That was her entire character. I mean, she had a name. She had some dialogue. She had a pet in a tank in her apartment (some kind of lizard, I think). But that was it. The only other thing we knew about her—her alarm didn’t go off, she overslept by almost two hours, and she was late for work. We never learned why her alarm didn’t go off (power outage? forgot to set it? sabotaging pet lizard?). We never learned why she was so tired she overslept by two hours (drastically overworked? got blackout drunk? a wild hookup that left her exhausted?).

Heck, weird as it sounds, we never even found out why being late was a bad thing (on the verge of being fired? abusive boss? big presentation?). We just knew she was late, had to get showered and dressed fast, had to get to work, and that was supposed to be enough for us. Anything else would require more thought about who she was, what she wanted out of life, and what she was actually getting.

And this book had over a dozen characters like her. Seriously. It spent a significant amount of time with people who could be 100% completely summed up with things like “Wakko needs some drugs,” “Dot’s worried about her dog,” or “Yakko is a no-nonsense soldier.” That’s it. That’s all of who they were.

One place you may recognize this from (tis the season after all) is old slasher movies. Okay, and some modern ones. Most of the cast is one note characters with just barely enough depth that we can tell the machete went through them. They’re the bulk filler of the plot. The serious woman. The goofball. The jock. The nice girl. The drunk/ stoner. They just exist to be minor obstacles between our killer and the one or two survivors.

Now, again, the idea is that the reader (or the audience, if this is a B-movie) has to find something more-or-less relatable in these broad stereotypes. I mean… you’ve known somebody who’s late for work before, right? Or was a jock? Or a serious woman? Okay, well… I bet you knew someone who was worried about their dog at some point, right?

I think people do this for two reasons. One is that they’re nervous about creating complex characters. Maybe they don’t think they’ve got the skill to do it, or possibly just not the skill to do it in the number of pages allotted to it. Perhaps they think their plot can’t function with only three or four threads. Or possibly they’re worried about having such a limited number of viewpoints.

I think the other reason is they’re worried about having characters with no traits. Like that woman running the register at the gas station. She doesn’t even have a name tag. She’s just there to sell the protagonist gas and a couple snacks. She’s got no arc or backstory or tragic flaw. That doesn’t seem right. We have to give her something, right? Maybe she could be, I don’t know, late for work or something?

Thing is, no matter what my reasoning is for this flood of one-dimensional characters, this always ends up leading to one of two things. Either we mistake their lack of depth for deliberate avoidance (“Hmmmmmm… why isn’t the writer saying why she was up late last night? Is she the murderer???”) and then we get frustrated when this goes nowhere. Or we recognize these characters don’t actually serve a purpose and get frustrated waiting to go back to someone who’s actually going to affect the plot in some way.

I also think it’s worth noting the three traits of good characters I’ve mentioned here a few dozen times—likable, believable, relatable. And yeah, I’ve also mentioned that supporting characters can sometimes get away with only two of these traits. Catch is, when characters are this flat and undeveloped, they almost always end up unbelievable—their actions and reactions just seem ridiculous because there’s no depth to ground them in. So we’re down one good trait already! Then my shotgun approach means they’re going to be randomly relatable at best, and lots of folks fall back on “snarky jerk” as a default personality, soooooooooooooo… Not a lot going for these folks.

Y’see, Timmy, burying my story in simple characters doesn’t work because it’s forgetting a basic truth of the spaghetti test. All those noodles that didn’t stick to the wall? I don’t sweep them up off the floor and put them back in the pot. The whole point of doing it all was to see what did and didn’t work—to figure out what shouldn’t be in my story.

So said noodles definitely shouldn’t be part of my finished entree.

Everyone gets the food-book metaphor here, right?

Anyway… next time…

Wow. Already halfway through October. I guess next time I could do the obligatory horror post. Or maybe talk about NaNoWriMo? Any preferences?

Either way, go write.

February 20, 2020 / 2 Comments

A2Q Part Three—Characters

Hey! Welcome back to the A2Q method. Thanks for your patience while I tossed down a bunch of other stuff.

Anyway… let’s get back to it.

Actually, before we get back to it, I want to mention something I should’ve brought up before. When this takes off and I combine it all together in a book, I’ll make sure this ends up back at the start of the plot post. Or, really, on the tail end of ideas.

We’re all creative in slightly different ways. We’re always going to start with ideas, yeah, but where we go from there is going to be different for all of us. And probably for every project. For some folks, ideas initially spark plots, for other people, ideas lead straight to characters. These are all correct, because storytelling is an art, and in art “correct” is what works for you.

So plot, characters, story, setting… these are all things you might come up with in a different order than I’m laying them out here. To be honest, because this is all early stages stuff, I’m just kinda tossing it out in the order it feels natural to me. A different order might feel a little more natural to you. We’re still early in the process and it’s all going to be a little different for everybody.

Here’s a way to think of it. When we’re following a recipe, it’s going to have a bunch of things in it. Two eggs, a cup of sifted flour, half a cup of sugar, and so on. There’s no reason I can’t start by measuring out the sugar. Or sifting the flour. Or maybe I’ll crack the eggs and put them in one of those little steel prep bowls. They’re just the ingredients, and the order we prepare them isn’t important, just that we have them ready and on hand when we start to cook.

Make sense?

Okay, so… characters.

Characters are the people who populate my world. They’re the ones who live in it every day. One way or another, they’re going to be our entry point and our guides into that world. Maybe we’ll be looking over their shoulders. Maybe we’ll be in their heads, hearing their thoughts and experiencing everything with them. However we do it, everything is really going to come down to them. I can have the coolest mystery ever, but if the people trying to solve it are annoying idiots my readers won’t even make it halfway through.

So, let me toss some character stuff at you.

First off, we’re going to have a protagonist. You may have heard them called the main character or the hero. I’m probably going to go with this because it’s a lot quicker to say (and type) than “protagonist.” We may have more than one hero in our book. I’ve seen some with a half a dozen or more, but those tend to be larger manuscripts. I think it’s harder (but not impossible) to have a lot of really good, well-rounded heroes in a smaller book, just because we’ve got less space to develop them. Not saying it’s impossible, but it’s going to be a lot harder to have ten main characters in a three hundred page book than in a nine hundred page one.

Even with fewer heroes—even just one—it’s important to remember right up front that I might have a lot of ideas about this character that never make it into the book. I can have a five page character sketch about their childhood, school years, music preferences, religious beliefs, sexual history, fashion sense, life goals, and retirement plans. That’s fantastic, and it’s never bad to know all these things about my characters. But it’s important to remember they might not all be directly relevant to the plot of my book, the events happening right now that stand out from every day events for my hero.

Consider it this way—you know all that stuff about yourself, right? All those things I just mentioned above? But how often do they come up? Pick one and think about the last time it was an important point in a given day. When was the last time it was important before that? Some might be important to bring up in a job interview, others will be more relevant on a date. But it’s really rare that they’re all going to be important.

Also it’s important to note two things when we say “hero.” One—which is hopefully obvious, but just in case—is that I’m using hero in the gender-neutral sense, not the masculine one. My protagonists can be whoever I want them to be. Second is that we’re using it in the classic literary sense, not in the “saved a busload of Chechen orphans” way. My hero doesn’t need to be someone who rappels down buildings or fires two guns whilst jumping through the air. “Hero” in this case just means they’re the focus of our attention.

Now, besides our hero, we’re probably going to have some supporting characters. These are the folks who, well, help support the character’s journey through the tale I’m telling. They’re the best friends and co-workers and werewolf hunting lodge-mates of our hero. In some cases they might actually help support the main character’s journey. In others, they’re helping support the journey itself, giving more flavor and detail to the world.

It’s key to note that, by their very nature, my supporting characters aren’t going to be as well-developed as my main characters. They can still have fun quirks and odd habits and backstories, but I’m just not going to be spending as much time with them. So I need to be aware of (sorry to bring math into this) what percentage of the book they’re actually going to be in, and what percentage of that is going to be devoted to furthering the overall plot or my hero’s journey.

Wow. Did I just say “hero’s journey” in a non-mocking way? I’m so sorry. We’ll deal with that later.

We’re also going to have some background characters. These are the folks who, like in a movie, sort of drift in and out around my protagonist, but rarely interact with them in any meaningful ways. Bartenders. Taxi drivers. The 108 other people who work in the department store. The twenty-three artisans at the lodge who make werewolf-hunting equipment. We may get quick descriptions of these folks, they may have a line of dialogue here or there, but they’re rarely key to anything past filling out a room… or maybe a few lines on a casualty report. Most of them won’t even get a name.

In my humble opinion, it’s really important to remember the hierarchy with these people. If my supporting characters are a tier below my heroes in terms of development, these background folks are going to be a tier below that. They’re not going to have a lot of description or backstory because… well, they’re just not that important. Nothing hinges on them. Think of those percentages I mentioned for supporting characters and apply it here. We all love rich, well-rounded characters, but do I have the time or space (heck, do my readers have the patience) to spend half a page on someone who’s not going to be at all relevant to this book? Once for the really cute cashier with the magenta hair. Maybe one more time for that archivist with the interesting accent and the hat. But these really, really need to be exceptions.

And there’s a reason for this. Readers automatically assume that if I mention someone in detail, they’re going to be important to the narrative. They take note of these characters, file them away for later reference. Time I spend with someone (or someones) who isn’t important is time I’m not spending with the characters who are important and, probably, time spent confusing my reader. I don’t want them taking mental notes on two pages of Andrea’s backstory only to find out she’s just here to say “You can go in now.” I might get away with it once, maybe twice, but this is something that’ll burn patience really fast.

Now, one last type of character we’re probably going to have is the antagonist. This is the person (or persons) who are between my hero and whatever they’re trying to do—you remember, that plot we were talking about last time. Often they’ve got a vested interest in my hero not doing that thing, in failing to achieve their goals.

It’s important that my antagonist be an actual character, not just a cliché obstacle going “Muah-ha-hah” while they kick sand in my hero’s face. They’ve got a history, a life, that led them to end up in this position now. In their own way, they need to be as well-rounded as my hero or they’re just going to look like a cliché. And clichés are boring

A few quick things to keep clear. First my antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain. They can be, but they may just be somebody doing a job. They me be a good person trying to do the right thing, but that still puts them against my protagonist.

Second, my antagonist may not be a person. It might be a system or a society (or a secret society). It could be a disease. It could be a species, like invasive ants or super-werewolves. Even if it is, though, I’ve found there still tends to be an individual we can focus on. An embodiment of the issue. The foreclosing banker who represents how society screwed us. The infected member of our family we’re trying to treat. That one super-werewolf hunting the woods out on the edge of town.

Finally, I think it’s worth being aware that there are different levels of antagonists. There can be supporting characters on this side of the equation, too, so we need to think about those percentages again. Store managers, henchmen, random prison guards, and so on. I’ve heard them called “the officious chaff” (and if you know who called them that please remind me because my mind’s gone blank). These folks can be propelling parts of my narrative, but I still don’t want to spend too much time with them.

I may have ideas for a bunch of different characters, and I need to figure out which of these categories they’re going to fit in. As writers, this is a big part of our job. Figuring out who my hero is (or maybe who they are) and making them an active participant in my plot.  Really, the plot should be happening because of my hero’s actions.  If not, they’re just a bystander watching someone else’s narrative unfold.

Got all that? It’s a lot, I know. And I’ve been trimming a lot of this as I’m writing it. There’s a few more things I want to touch on.

I’m a big believer that good heroes always share three traits. They’re likable, they’re relatable, and they’re believable within their world. A key thing about all these—I’m referring to the reader’s perception of them, not other characters. This is something I think gets overlooked a lot when people talk about writing. They’re two very different viewpoints, and it needs to be clear which one we’re referring to.

That said… let’s talk about these three traits real quick.

When we say a hero needs to be likable, I don’t mean they need to be pleasant or cheerful or re-home shelter dogs or bake cookies for new neighbors. But they do need to be someone I, as a person holding the book, like reading about. I have to find something about them attractive or enjoyable or admirable. If there’s nothing to like, there’s no reason to keep reading. If you follow me on Twitter when I watch my Saturday geekery movies, an all-too common complaint is “who am I supposed to be rooting for?” Every character is boring or a jerk or annoying or misogynist or racist or a combo of several of these things. Why would I like reading about someone like that?

When we say a hero needs to be relatable, it means we need to identify with them somehow. We should see ourselves in them and some of their struggles and hopes and dreams. We don’t know what it’s like to live in a poverty-stricken future dystopia, but a lot of us can relate to Katniss Everdeen’s impulsive need to protect her family and her basic desire to survive. Likewise none of us know what it’s like to be a professional werewolf hunter, but most of us can probably relate to having to stick with a job that doesn’t pay that great. Some of us may even understand Phoebe’s ongoing frustration with her younger sister, who she’s had to raise since their parents died. As I mentioned up above, our hero’s going to lead us through our story, and they’re going to have a hard time doing that if we don’t understand them and empathize with them to some degree.

Finally, our hero needs to be believable within their world. Sure, if Harry Potter tells some bloke on the street he’s a wizard, it makes sense that they wouldn’t believe him. Even if he shows them some magic, it’s understandable said bloke would just think it’s a trick. But we believe Harry’s a wizard because we’ve seen the wizarding world behind the curtain, so to speak.

At the same time, that doesn’t make Harry a believable character if we suddenly drop him into the world of The Expanse. Now it’s ridiculous that we’re trying to say magic exists in that hard-science narrative. If I tell you that my story’s set in the real world and Phoebe’s a professional werewolf hunter, well, either she’s a bit unbalanced or this is some kind of marketing gag for a movie or game. But if I tell you it’s a world where werewolves are real—even if most people don’t know about them—well, then it makes sense there’d be people who hunt them, on a professional level and maybe amateurs, too.

So, all that said, let’s consider a few character ideas for our novel and maybe give them a few quirks and traits. Heck, maybe the quirks or traits were the initial ideas and now we’re kinda working backwards. It all works.

Let’s just admit Phoebe’s our hero. We know she’s a werewolf hunter with money problems, because it doesn’t pay great. She’s part of a werewolf hunting lodge, so maybe this is an inherited position or a “legacy” thing. Her parents are dead and she’s been raising her younger sister, which has probably had at least as much of an impact on her life as her job has. That’s about 95% of her day right there.

We’ll call her little sister Luna. Right off the bat, we know she’s young enough that she’s not out on her own, which also gives us an age range for Phoebe since there’s probably a believable age difference between two sisters. Let’s call it eight years difference for now. We’ll put Luna at seventeen—right on the brink of legal adulthood, so they’ve got lots to talk about—and that makes Phoebe twenty-five (pencil that in up above).

Let’s combine two supporting characters up above and say Andrea has the magenta hair and she’s the public face of the werewolf-hunters lodge. You don’t get in without getting past her. I picture her with  big round glasses, just because. She’s probably a bit dismissive because she has to deal with everybody at one point or another, so the less time she has to deal with someone, the better.

Now, by nature of the story we’ll probably need a few more supporting characters. There can be Luc, another werewolf hunter from the lodge. He’s a rival for Phoebe and maybe a romantic interest for Luna. Yeah, keep her age in mind, that’s going to be important issue. Or maybe this is a romantic triangle? Or maybe they just both hate him. We’ll all figure it out together. One way or another, she needs to talk to somebody at the lodge.

We can also have Quinn, who makes most of Phoebe’s weaponry and armor. Not sure if Quinn’s a man or a woman yet, but it’s someone else for her to talk with at the lodge and I just love the idea of someone who makes weapons and yes, my name begins with Q, I get it. No I’ve never heard that before. Can we move on now?

Phoebe and Luna’s parents are going to come up, one way or another, so I should probably know something about them. How did they die? Did they die together or separately? Random accident? Tragic backstory? Does it have something to do with being werewolf hunters? I’m going to say it was a werewolf attack, but the lodge has kept some of the details from Phoebe and Luna. That’s a good start for now.

I should probably come up with one or three people in town, too. Other folks Phoebe will have to deal with who aren’t part of the lodge. We know she has money problems, so there’ll be two or three discussions with the landlord. Maybe a friendly bartender she confides in, because this is a friggin’s stressful situation she’s in and she’ll need some downtime away from Luna (plus, a friendly bartender will give her a drink or two on the house). Who else would she end up talking to in town? Another person making gear or training her on the side? Is there someone else she owes money to? If Luc isn’t a love interest, does she have a friend with benefits?

Plus, let’s not forget our antagonist—that werewolf out in the forest on the edge of town. They’re hungry and dangerous and Phoebe shot them with a silver crossbow bolt and it did nothing. That’s something we really need to deal with. Plus… I’m using a neutral pronoun but is this werewolf neutral? Is it male or female? Maybe more importantly… who is this werewolf during the day? Someone we know? Do they know they’re the super-werewolf? Do we know they’re the werewolf?

For our purposes, I’m going to say right now that Luna is the super-werewolf, but she doesn’t know it herself until a little more than halfway through the story. Knowing this up front is going to help me shape a lot of scenes and structure my narrative. The readers aren’t going to find out until Phoebe does, because Phoebe’s my protagonist and we’re more or less learning things as she does. If we learned Luna’s secret too much before Phoebe, it could potentially make her look dumb and it means my reader’s going to be waiting for her to catch up. Also, this is going to set up some great conflicts between Phoebe and Luna, but also with Luc and the rest of the lodge. After all, their job is to kill werewolves, so where does that put Phoebe?

That’s a nice cast for now. We may add two or three more as we develop the plot and the narrative a little more, but this gives us something to start thinking about. It even helps us shape our plot a little more because it’s given us some new elements to throw into the mix.

And I think I’m going to stop here because this has gotten huge. There’s so much more to say about characters in general, but I think this is a lot of the key stuff we need to think about as we’re playing around in these early stages. You may notice I dropped a lot of links to previous posts about characters, so feel free to explore.

Next time, we’re going to expand out characters a bit more and talk about story.

Until then, go write.

October 10, 2019

Going Over The Numbers

Another quick post. Something that crossed my mind the other day. A little odd for a mostly writing blog, I know, but I wanted to talk about numbers for a few minutes.

I’ve rambled on here once or thrice about characters. Protagonists vs antagonists. Main characters vs.  supporting characters vs. background characters. Who should get namedand who shouldn’t.

But it struck me that one thing that almost never comes up is, well, how many characters should I have. How many can my story really support? How many does my story need?

Yeah, that sounds a little odd but some stories need more characters than others. A murder mystery with two characters doesn’t leave a lot of room for red herrings—especially when one of them is dead on page two (thanks, Owen!). If I want to write a slasher or torture porn story, well, I’m going to need a few extra teenage campers to send off into the woods. Heck, think how much it could limit my sci-fi story not to have a red shirt or three that can head up to that ridge to look around.

The truth is, a lot of stories have certain minimums. Nothing’s written down, mind you—there’s no chart somewhere that says romance=8 characters, mystery=15, urban fantasy=23.  But, as I just hinted, I can start hitting some odd problems when my story’s understaffed. Suddenly my murderous alien monster seems a little less genetically superior because, well, it’s not managing to kill anyone. Because there’s nobody for it to kill.

One of my Saturday geekery movies a few weeks back had this problem. It was a slasher film. Nubile kids up at the lake smoking pot and having premarital sex (a recipe for sudden death). Thing is… there were only four of them. Two couples. Which… well, it didn’t give our murderous killer much to work with. He just kinda stood around for a lot of the movie. And then he had two “attacks” where he didn’t kill anybody. Or even wound them.

If I had to guess, based off my own experience with such things, the screenplay went through a lot of revisions and had a lot of cuts. A LOT of cuts. And one thing that went away was extra characters. All those people with just one or two lines, anybody who only had a single contribution toward advancing the plot, everyone who was only there to look good in a bathing suit or a wet t-shirt.   They all got trimmed and cut and combined and suddenly—again, this is my just my guess—this summer camp went from nine or ten counselors to only four. And, sure, each of these four had a lot to do, but they were just too rare for our mystery murderer to kill one of them off at the end of act one. Or even act two. The story couldn’t afford to lose a character, so the killer kept… not killing them.

Essentially, it was a slasher film where nobody got slashed.

Sometimes, weird as it sounds, we need that nubile teen in the wet t-shirt running through the woods. Okay, we don’t need her specifically, but we need somebody there because what happens to that person is setting a certain mood and letting us know some things up front. More characters raise the stakes and heighten the mystery. We need the red shirts, the lab assistants, and that guy who’s acting shifty but has a pretty solid alibi for the time of the murder because sometimes they really are advancing the plot.

And, yeah, I know this may sound a little odd to say because I’ve talked a lot here about paring away excess. I’ve made many posts about trimming the fat and figuring out if I really need this character or not. But this is one of those odd balance things we all need to figure out for ourselves. Which really sucks, I know. I wish that chart did exist so I could just tell you how many characters is the correct number for your story.

Y’see, Timmy, this is one of those things that just falls under experience and empathy. It can’t really be taught, it just needs to be figured out. And I’m going to need to figure it out every single time, because my mystery in the Hamptons is going to (hopefully) be different than my mystery in the Catskills and neither of them are like my Long Island mystery (which partly takes place at the club, so there are at least a dozen suspects. Three dozen if we’re going to consider staff). I need to figure out that perfect balance between enough characters to propel the plot forward, but not so many that I’m bogging it down.

It’s tough, but it can be done. And you can do it.

I was going to say “count on it!” but that’s just way too cheesy.


This weekend is the Writers Coffeehouse at Dark Delicacies and also the Dystopian Book Club at the Last Bookstore. If you’re in the southern Californiaarea, maybe I’ll see you there for at least one of them.

Next time here… okay, look. Next time I’m probably going to do something quick. I’ll explain why then. But if you’re in the Dallas area, leave the 20th open.

Until then, go write.

September 21, 2018 / 4 Comments

One and Done

            Okay, book edits have been turned in, but I never made it to IKEA.  One of our cats is sick and has been getting daily trips to the vet for fluids.  So the library and game room are still stuck in transition.
            Plus, I managed to squeeze a ranty blog post into all of this, only to realize at the last moment (just as I was inserting links and pictures) that I’d talked about this exact topic just a few months ago.  I mean, I used some of the same examples and everything.  I may be a hack, but I’m not that much of a hack.
            So let me skip ahead in my list of topics and talk briefly about killing people.
            A while back I mentioned a bad habit people have that I named “describe and die.”  It’s when an author (or screenwriter) gives us tons of details about a character in an attempt to make them likeable and relatable.  As a way to get us quickly invested. 
            And then kills them.
            Today I wanted to mention a little offshoot of this that I ended up talking about with my editor recently.  Call it a connected bad habit.  One I think grew out of necessity…
            This is going to seem rambling, but stick with me.
            One of the ugly truths about screenwriting is that so many things come back to budget.  I can write the most elaborate script with a broad palette of characters, but at the end of the day it’s going to come down what we can afford to do—especially in television.  I may have written dozens of little characters here and there to help bring the world to life, but the reality is they’re going to be cut and trimmed down to the bare minimum we need to move the plot along.
            Of course, most of us don’t see this.  We just see the final version.  And we tend to absorb some storytelling lessons from it.  Even the bad, unnatural ones.
            In screenwriting it makes sense that we’ll never, ever have a speaking role that isn’t important.  It costs almost a thousand dollars just for someone to have one line.  Seriously.  That actress saying “Your drink, sir”—she just paid rent for the month.  And she’ll get a sliver of the residuals, because she’s a speaking actor.  So Hollywood is reeeeeeeeeaaally conservative when it comes to handing out random lines to random people.  I’ve personally watched those parts get whittled away as new script revisions came out.
            Of course, that’s Hollywood.  Books have no budget.  We can have casts of thousands and dinosaurs and spaceships and all sorts of stuff.  If someone needs to speak, they can speak.
            Some folks still follow that minimal-character idea, not understanding it’s an element of budgeting, not storytelling.  And when I combine this with describe-and-die, it creates a really weird mechanic in my story.  Not only do I “create” real characters just to kill them off… they’re the only other characters I’m creating.  Nobody else gets a line of description or a few words of dialogue.
            Y’see, Timmy, now my story only has three types of people in it.  Protagonists, antagonists, and… victims.  Heck, depending on my story, I may not even have an actual antagonist.  Now all I’ve got is protagonists and victims.
            Which doesn’t feel like a very well-rounded world, does it?
            I’ve talked here a few times about the need to keep things tight, but—like so many things in life—this goes horribly wrong once it’s taken to extremes.  I don’t want to trim away every single interaction or description in the name of brevity.  A non-stop, breakneck paceis going to get exhausting really fast.
            I shouldn’t be afraid to have a little more in my story.  I don’t want my world to be cluttered, but I also don’t want it to be a stark, utilitarian framework.  Because the truth is… sometimes people are just there.
            Usually blocking an aisle in IKEA.
            Next time…
            Okay, look, my schedule for topics is a mess now, so if you’ve got something you really want to hear me blather on about, let me know down in the comments.  And if nobody does, I’ll just end up blabbing on about Sherlock Holmes or something…
            So until then—go write.