Character Development – Whose story is it?

This article could go in the upcoming series on plot development.  But it also relates back to my previous article about what to do when a new character shows up.  So I’m putting it here in this series.

Have you ever read a story where there were so many strong characters, or the focus of the story shifted so much, it was hard to figure out who it was really about?  I’m not talking about soap operas – they’re all over the place when it comes to character development.  In fact, they break almost all of the rules without any qualms whatsoever.  I’m talking about a serious novel where the focus was fragmented, for lack of a better word.  That happened to me with Consequences.  I didn’t realize it until I had finished the first draft.  I gave it to my father to read and the first thing he said was, “Whose story is this?  It starts out with Dave.  Then Trevor takes over.  Then it kind of shifts back to Dave.  Only he’s become more of a secondary character at this point.  You need to figure out who the main character is and make it his story.”

In my first draft of Consequences the story began with Dave Simms.  We got to know him a little and learned about his computer consulting business.  Then we met Ron Maddox and learned a little about his relationship with Dave.  Then, after Ron was found dead in his office, we met FBI Agent Trevor Washington.  But Trevor was such a strong character he took over the story from that point forward.  When the story shifted back to Dave he was overshadowed.  He was still very important to the development of the plot, but it was no longer his story.  To be honest…it was a mess.  Of course, it was only a first draft, so it’s okay that it was a mess.

When I gave the focus to Trevor, made it his story, that also helped me to tighten up the plot and get rid of some things that didn’t need to be there.  As a matter of fact, all that stuff about Dave and his relationship with Ron got cut.  I literally whacked the first 52 pages and started where Trevor was introduced and where the real story began – with the death of Ron Maddox.

When you encounter a situation like this with your own writing you need to take a step back and look at your plot and your characters.  Every story has a protagonist and an antagonist. You must identify who, or what, they are.  Sometimes the antagonist is not a person it’s a force of nature or some other factor that acts against the protagonist.  Initially in Consequences I thought Dave would be the protagonist and Carol the antagonist.  Instead, Trevor turned out to be the protagonist.  There was more conflict between Trevor and Carol and the conflict between them was more complex and more interesting.  Once I realized that it was obvious…it was Trevor’s story.

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