Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Too Many Characters

Jolene Hui (I will always think of her as Princess Hui) turned me on to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I liked it, although Stieg Larrson's narrative style reflects his background in journalism rather than a literary voice. I could live with that simply because of his character Lisabet Salander. I know a few artist who are very much like her, so I had no problem believing anyone could be (something) like that. What I found harder to forgive were the other characters. Scores of them, and each of them with far too much personal history that added nothing to the story.

I see this problem a lot with new writers. They let their casts run into double digits, and each person has a single personality trait to define them. This sort of works in movies, because even you you forget a name, you have a face to remind you that 'oh yeah, that's the neighbor who wears her mink while she prunes her roses,' and you only have to keep track for a couple hours. In a book, you might have to flip back chapters to remember who Jennie is. That pulls you out of the story - always a bad writing mistake. Plus you begin to wonder why, if she's not the proverbial gun in act 1, does Jennie even exist. Can't someone else say her lines? The answer is almost always yes.

I'm supposed to be keeping my word count up on my current novel because it's running under the usual minimum for the genre, but I realized that my cast was getting unwieldy, so in this rewrite I lopped off at least five characters and consolidated two. That translated to about 2700 words being slashed. Not the direction I'm supposed to go, but I like a tightly written story, so I'm just going to have to figure out another way to add words without padding the word count. I promise you that I am not going to tell you the life history of Jennie - unless she shows up in her mink in the last act with a pruned head in her hand.