Over the weekend I discovered something about my secondary characters. They aren’t characters, they are merely objects that walk and talk. Somehow, this doesn’t strike me as optimal. I want my characters to have a direction and need of their own, not just an obligation to be the foil for my main characters.
So I spent the weekend first figuring out not just what each secondary wanted (I’d done that already), but what they were going to do about it, how they would succeed or fail, and what they’d do about that. A by-product of that was to decide just how and to what degree each secondary would change by the end. I believe that if your protagonist has not changed by the end of the story that you haven’t told a story, you’ve just reported events; my theorem off that is that, if the secondaries are changing, the story has more depth. With that in mind I made a list of characters and checked them for change by story’s end, and believe I learned a general priniciple:
The more significantly a character changes by the end of the story, the more likely the character was important in the story.
I discovered that someone I thought was a spear-carrier was actually rather pivotal and that someone I thought was very important was actually a macguffin. Shifting my perspective on those two made a lot of issues come more clear; one doesn’t look for the chorus to lead the song, after all, and by watching the right character I had a much easier time tracking the action.
So. Good. With all that sorted out in my head, I sat down to my synopsis again — all my cat-waxing is pointed toward my synopsis, making it more detailed, trying to work out what scenes I’m writing and what is being done in those scenes separately from actually writing them. Things were a bit clearer, but I was still stuttering at the keyboard. I pulled out a technique that I read someplace or another, writing in script format instead of prose. I had all of my characters sitting around in the dark grabbing the narrative when they were performing the action or reaction and —
— whoosh —
— pages of synopsis came flowing out, blow-by-blow, clearing up enormous amounts of confusion about why things were happening (specifically) and in what order, and about who was reacting to what and causing which.
There’s still a long way to go, but I can see the trail, now, which makes it much easier to follow it. Much easier, in fact, to have a trail to follow rather than a view of the end, miles away, with nothing more than a clue about the terrain between here and the end. I wonder if it’s easier to write large stories when one doesn’t know the end first. I imagine I’ll find out.