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Hello, writers. Here's another thing I've discovered about drafting the third book of a trilogy: At this point, I've got an awful lot of characters milling around. Tons of them. Dozens, scores. They're all over the place. I have character soup.

And every one of them has to be dealt with in some way. They all need some kind of resolution. They're all going to have to be acknowledged, given a role, killed off... something.

Right now, in this early portion of an early draft, they're wandering around all over the scenery. I really have to figure out what to do with them.

I've had to rewrite the beginning (something I'll undoubtedly be doing many more times) to adjust which characters appear in the first scene. This is something else I learned from the editor of Jinx, Anne Hoppe. Readers expect that the characters who appear in the first scene will be important ones, and that the reader should pay attention to them. The first scene isn't the best place to put passersby and plot fodder.

(Plot fodder = characters who show up wearing red shirts. You know the ones I mean. Boromirs.)

A lot of my other scenes have gotten too crowded. I'm going to have to clear people off. When a conversation/conflict/quarrel/water balloon fight/heart to heart talk needs to take place between two or three main characters, they don't necessarily want a large audience. So I'm going to have to work out some devices, give the secondary and tertiary characters something else to do.

Whenever they aren't part of the action, they need to be otherwise accounted for.

Which brings us, as Mr. Colbert would say, to tonight's challenge:

A callow youth and/or his/her stout companion, who have long sought the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog, through bogs and over mountains, without success, come into the barroom at the Startled Duck one evening and see, to their astonishment, their quondam mentor, the always-offstage Froop.

What's he doing suddenly onstage? they think. But never mind that, they have a few choice words for him.

Before those words can be exchanged, everyone else in the barroom has to be removed from the scene somehow. Think of a device for getting the extras out of there or distracting their attention, and use it.

 

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Comment Preferences

  •  apologies if i don't (19+ / 0-)

    stay very late tonight... haven't had much sleep the last few nights. Neighbor's dogs.

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu May 02, 2013 at 10:44:49 AM PDT

  •  Btw in re the neighbors' dogs (7+ / 0-)

    does anyone know if those things you can hang outside to stop your neighbors' dog from barking actually work?

    -9.0, -8.3 "Remember, a writer writes. Always." --Throw Momma from the Train

    by SensibleShoes on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:03:42 PM PDT

  •  Ok, this should be fun. (12+ / 0-)

    "Fake a Heart Attack."

    Jean stared at George with a deadly serious expression.

    "Really?  That's the best you can come up with?"  He retorted, his gaze crossing the throng in the common room to light upon the man they had both instantly recognized.  It would have been hard not to immediately identify Froop, his idiosyncrasies and stance unique.

    "Have you got a better idea?" Jean matched the scornful tone to the most minor inflection.

    "At this moment... no, but If we just..."

    "Froop will have had his drink and be gone by the time you are putting your plan into action.  Heart Attack.  Now."

    George scowled, before standing up and clutching at his chest in an exaggerated manner.  As he did so, Jean played the part of the concerned onlooker, immediately caterwauling in the most dramatic matter she could.

    After a few moments of being pointedly ignored, it took a few shorter moments for the large bouncer to cross the room, grasp George by the lapel and escort him to the door, projecting the hapless companion out of the bar before following himself.

    The crowd within the room immediately vacated through all available exits, in anticipation of the free display of pugilism.

    This left Jean sitting in the suddenly vacant room, with Froop still standing at the bar, finger raised to order a drink.

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:12:30 PM PDT

  •  That was my problem with (11+ / 0-)

    the first story I ever finished.  Waaaay too many characters and not that different from each other.  Alas...

    Every time I re-wrote the story some would creep back in.

    Spring has perked me up some.  I am hoping to do some writing soon.

    brb...

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:17:52 PM PDT

  •  Too Many Characters! (12+ / 0-)

    One thing I noticed when I was re-reading the transcript of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio play for my recent diaries on them.  There is kind of an optimal number of characters for a scene.  The necessities of radio drama kind of require at least two characters who can talk to each other; but once you get beyond three or four, things become confusing.  So Adams was always finding ways to shuffle superfluous characters off-stage, or in extreme cases, writing them out all together.

    The character of Roosta is like that.  An incidental character who is given a certain amount of build-up and who serves an important function in providing plot exposition, but who doesn't go on to join the group.  He just falls out of the story without any comment.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:20:42 PM PDT

  •  mine (10+ / 0-)
    The Startled Duck Tavern was cozy and Jasper and Hitch were thirsty from their swim across the river.  Three large men in black cloaks were imbibing by the window.

    "Wizards," Hitch said.  

    Jasper looked around the small room.

    "Well look who's there in the dark corner," Jasper said.  "Our dear friend, Froop, the unhinged wizard."

    "We talk to him, now," Hitch said.  "but, too many ears in way of setting Froop on path of good deeds."

    Hitch paid the barkeep for two large ales.  Jasper paid for one small lemon drink.  They looked at the three wizards.  How could they get them to leave?

    From outside the tavern came a shriek, "Dragon! Dragon!"

    "Into the basement," said the barkeep and opened a trap door.  The three wizards followed him down into the basement.  

    Froop threw himself at the closing door, but Hitch grabbed him by the belt.

    "Sit down," he said.

    Jasper sat down across from them.

    "But, there is a dragon!"  Froop said.  His hands waved in the air toward the square outside.   People were running to and fro and screaming.

    "Just Malford hunting us.  Not to worry about him, please.  We are the ones who want to have a word," Jasper said.

    "You have changed," Froop said.  "You look like a hardened thug."

    "Thank you," Jasper said.  "Now, about that false alarm where you sent us back into the swamp and then about getting us kicked out of the tree library.  Speak up.  What game were you playing?"

    Froop scowled.  "Would you believe that wasn't me?"

    "No," Hitch said and he shook Froop.  "Talk quick before Malford peek in here."

    The doors buckled and a huge dark head with a long snout twisted inside.  Froop started to shriek, but Hitch put his hand over his mouth.

    "Talk, first," Jasper said in a quiet tone.  "What have you been doing to us?"

    "I, no...nothing.  I was misinformed.  I promise only good information next time.  I need to leave, now.  That dragon knows my real name."

    Malford's head turned toward the table.

    "I see you, Wentwhistle," Malford said.  "You come out now."

    "Wentwhistle?" Hitch asked.  "That be your real name?"

    Jasper pulled the wizard to his feet.  "Go.  Make your peace with the beast.  It is the least you can do for us while we go out the back.  If you fail us again, we will be back."

    Froop snuffled.  He waved his hands again and shrank into a tiny least grebe that ran between Malford's legs and out into the square.

    Jasper and Hitch stared at each other.

    "Gods and rivers!" Jasper said.  "I had no idea."

    "Won't fool Malford like fool us," Hitch said as he peered out the window and then covered his eyes.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:49:09 PM PDT

  •  A Little Privacy Please (10+ / 0-)
    "Crumb's Dispeptic Duodenum!" Murray muttered between clenched teeth.  "Look who's over there!"

    Cal lowered his mug of ale and looked over his shoulder in the direction Murray indicated.  In a booth over on the far wall sat a fat, jovial mage in a threadbare cloak with a greyish corkscrew of a beard.  "Damn.  It's Froop."

    Murray slid off his stool, his hand clenched in a fist, but Cal put a hand on his shoulder.  "We'll go together."  He glanced over at Diedrie.  "Wait here a moment, will you?"

    Diedrie put the little paper umbrella she was playing with back in her drink and pushed it away.  "I'm coming too."

    The three of them threaded their way across the crowded tavern, trying not to jostle the dart-playing dwarves, and approached Froop's table.

    "Greetings!  Greetings, friends," the wizard beamed.  "How good to see you again!  I trust your quest is going well?"

    "Why you flea-bitten son of a wilderbeest!  I'll give you --"

    "Easy, Murray."  Cal leaned on the table at the wizard.  "About that sword you gave me."

    "Sword...?"

    "The Holy Sword of Hasenpfeffer."

    The wizard's smile widened slightly in a painful manner and he glanced about.  "Not so loudly, if you don't mind," he said in a low voice.  "The walls.  Ears.  You know.  Please, sit down."

    Cal nodded at the others.  He and Diedrie sat across the booth from Froop; Murray sat next to him to block his exit, drawing his dagger for no particular reason.  Froop tried unsuccessfully to maintain his smile, then finally gave it up.  He set a small talisman on the table and uttered the words "Locus solitudo."

    Immediately a curious grey mist seemed to surround their booth and the noises of the tavern became muted, as if muffled in cotton.  A strange, soothing music began to play, coming out of nowhere.

    Cal frowned.  "What the hey?"

    "A spell of my own devising.  I call it the Zone of Privacy.   It clouds the perceptions of those around us so that they neither see nor hear us.  A very useful spell, if I do say so.  Which I do."

    "But what's with the music?"  Murray asked.  "It sounds like... Burt Bacharach?"

    Froop gave a sheepish and apologetic grin.  "It is a part of the spell.  I usually use the spell for... ah... shall we say other circumstances."

    "Yeah but why would you want to play make-out music..." Murray noticed that a dreamy look had come over Diedrie's face and she was resting her head on Cal's shoulder.  "Never mind."

    "Um, Diedrie," Cal said, "maybe you should wait at the bar after all."

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:57:18 PM PDT

  •  Here's mine: (9+ / 0-)

    Because I deliberately never do what you ask me to:

        "So who were those men anyway?" asked the woman at the window who'd been nursing the same grog all evening.
         "Dunno," grunted the barkeep.  "Never seen 'em before.  Not locals."
         "I don't think they was together," slurred the old drunk in the corner. "Them younger two, they was here first, and they got mighty red when that third fella walked in!"
         The barkeep's wife, who was dusting the goblets above the bar, began to cackle.  "Ooh, look who's talking about turning red!  Your nose is redder than them roses outside the window!"
         The young couple at the bar laughed and took a swig from their frosty mugs.  "All the same, I'm thinking they meant trouble," said the woman, "and I'm glad they left."  "Oh, I dunno," said her husband, "The first two seemed nice enough.  They was asking me all about getting through some swamp or another.  It was that third guy..."  
         "Well what kind of folk's got business running around swamps in the first place?" shouted the woman at the window.
         "Lots of folks, I guess."
         "All the same," murmured the barkeep, "they had a few choice words for each other.  "Whatever's happening now, I'm glad it's going on outside the bar."
         "Right," said his wife.  "The Startled Duck is a respectable establishment!"  Now everyone roared with laughter.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:03:57 PM PDT

  •  Hola, Sensho and comrades! (9+ / 0-)

      “And make it a double.”  Persimma leaned her elbows onto the bar.  This hurt because the bar had been hewn out of granite, apparently with a pickaxe, but at least it took the weight off her feet.  Their throbbing had ripped the seam of her left boot.  The four drunken arguers on her left began to swell with impending combat, and she pushed her hip hard in that direction to overbalance them.  They fell into an argument of ravens on the floor.
       “Same,” Bunny Nesbit said.  He sneered at the bartender, daring him with every quivering whisker to trot out the old speciesist, “We don’t serve their kind here.”
       The bartender folded instantly with a mumbled “What the hell,” and pushed two smoking glasses across the bar.  
       Persimma inhaled the aroma and some sparks.  “Fabu – FROOP!”
       “Where?” asked Bunny Nesbit.  
       “There!  There!  On top of the naked Lesser Grebe painting!  Don’t look!  He hasn’t seen us!”
       “We’ve got to talk to him.  We’ve got to clear this bar.”
       “Clear the Startled Duck?” Bunny Nesbit asked.  “Good luck with that.  But maybe we could --”
       “Free beer in the parking lot!” Persimma yelled.  "Free Scotch for bartenders!  Not you, Froop.  Climb down from that picture, very very slowly.  We need to talk, and I'm not fussy about whether you're alive or not when we do."

  •  "That might be Froop there" thought the Stout... (7+ / 0-)

    ...Companion, "That bastard who told me that if I took this gig with that stupid little brat I've spent the last 30 years with, that the whole thing would last a week, two at the Max, and then I'd be rolling in fame and fortune."

    Some fame.   Some fortune.   Thirty years of being stuck in  vomit reeking dives redolent of choke inducing carcinogens rising out of cheap cigars with a drooling perennially pubescent spoiled brat...

    Maybe it was Froop.   Maybe not, because it was equally possible, maybe more possible in fact, that the appearance of Froop - what kind of name was "Froop" anyway? - might actually be another detox hallucination, why, oh, why, in circumstances like this did the long suffering Stout Companion ever think of trying to dry out?   What could possibly be better about being, in all of this, sober?

    Froop.  Froop.   "I got something to say to Froop," the Stout Companion muttered, this time audibly, but barely so.

    "Whaaaa..." the Callow "Youth" asked.

    Just then, a North Korean hereditary dictator, as permanently puerile as the preternaturally pestilential poopy pants "C.W.," himself, in a tantrum lobbed a nuclear missile at Togwogmagog with the seedy, sepulchral, slob infested Startled Duck being precisely at ground zero, and everyone vaporized, although, standing, as he was, behind the lead lined steel door, and invested with a great mass of limpid flesh, the Stout companion vaporized a few milliseconds later than everyone else, and managed in that moment to begin to scream at Froop, whether Froop was in fact a being or was merely a feedback figment from a flamed out fried synapse  the thing he always wanted to say to Froop, should he meet him:  

    "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeettttttttttttt...!!!!"

  •  Character soup is an apt description (8+ / 0-)

    I never really saw it as a problem. Yes, I do remove many from the story but I don't really think of it as 'remove'. They are still there but just not people to focus on.
    And sometime my characters do start their Important Interactions in highly public places- a: it's an obstacle to heighten the urgency b: I get to do very amusing things to my characters, trying to increase the memorable moment (along with being fun for me).

        “A drink, a song, a wench or two, ah yes the marvels of civilization,” Ray surveyed the dim barn-converted-to-bar with relief. Whelk shuddered at the rank odor, as likely from furtive patrons as the questionable offerings.
        “Civilization? This?” he choked.
        Honra pushed them aside, staring across tables of patrons carefully avoiding her eye to a slim figure sitting at the bar. She slid out a blade with a slow rasp.
        “It is dishonor I spy, perched lively and quick still!” she yelled, a second weapon audible drawn, “Stand foul coward. So cowardly you even flee death! A failure in life and a failure in death!”
        Two more blades unsheathed but that noise was lost in the scuffle of chairs and fleeing feet. The room fell silent, the crackle of the fire and the lone figure sitting silent and still.
        “Face me Froop!” Honra demanded.
        “Aside from yet another vendetta, who’s Froop?” Ray asked, “And could we please have a beer first?”

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:25:16 PM PDT

  •  Cast of Thousands (8+ / 0-)

    In the role-playing games I used to run with my wife, I would often wind up accumulating large numbers of supporting characters who would come and go as the adventure progressed.  I got in the habit of, when a campaign was coming to a close, make a point of checking in with them all to see what they all were up to as a way of tying up all the loose ends.

    It occurred to me that Charles Dickens used to do the same thing.  He'd have all these colorful, interesting characters in his novels and usually the last chapter or two would be devoted to touching bases with them before finishing everything up.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:30:26 PM PDT

  •  Da boyz are slumming a bit tonight, (7+ / 0-)

    or at least not in a five-star joint:

    The glass panel in the top of the door was dirty, and the door to the barroom stuck when they tried to open it. “Needs to be planed a bit on the bottom,” Stouty muttered as he put his shoulder to it.

    “Figures,” Callie snapped. “A place like this. That stupid sign looks like Daffy Duck meets Wile E. Coyote.” He held his breath for the first few seconds as they entered the barroom, just to be on the safe side. Startled Duck or no, all the dirt and dust motes and pollen in the air could really mess up a lad’s sinuses.

    He was concentrating on counting off his customary 30 seconds of held breath as he took a step forward, and plowed right into Stouty.

    “Will you look at that?” Stouty jerked his head toward the far corner of the room. “No, Callie, don’t look directly. Be subtle.” He pronounced the “b.”

    There was rather a large crowd in the bar, most of whom seemed to be relatively unkempt but in fiercely good spirits. The exception was the lone bony figure in the far corner, huddled into a bench beside the giant chimney and clutching a tankard as if his life depended on it.

    As indeed it might, Callie realized. “Well, I’ll be . . . hornswoggled. There’s Froop.”

    “Hornswoggled?” Stouty peered at him. “Where’d you get that fancy six-dollar word? Been readin’ them adventure stories by the likes of cfk and pico and Tara again, have ya? It’ll all come to no good, you know.”

    “Oh, I know,” Callie agreed blithely, “but Froop. Oh my freaking succotash, it’s Froop. Stouty, we’ve gotta clear the room, we’ve gotta talk to The Man.”

    Stouty rolled his eyes. “Ohboy, and you want me to do it, right?” He sighed. “OK, here goes.”

    He faded into the crowd, working his way toward the bar. Callie saw him signal the barman, thought he saw something pass between them, and a few seconds later a pretty blonde barmaid walked over to Froop and spoke to him.

    The old man looked up without much interest, then nodded once, twice. He levered himself to his feet, turned back to grab his tankard, then followed the barmaid through a door at the rear of the room.

    “Did I just see what I thought I saw?” Callie demanded as Stouty eased himself back onto his barstool. He glared.

    “Why, goodness gracious, my lord and liege,” Stouty placed a meaty hand on his heart, “what do you think you saw?” He grinned and tossed back a large gulp. “Maybelle has merely invited the good professor to sit in a private room, where he will be more comfortable and not be bothered by the noise and riffraff present herein.

    “And where,” he went on, “we can go and have a nice, private chat with him. But lest he have any ideas of leaving before we can get there, there is a very fine specimen of Dragonensis Grandiflora Cecil parked just outside the exit to this fine establishment.”

    He finished his drink, gently placed the empty tankard on the bar and rose from his seat. “Shall we go, m’lord?”

    There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from Midtown and how late is it open? -- Woody Allen

    by Mnemosyne on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:58:53 PM PDT

  •  I think I squeezed in all my bit players (6+ / 0-)
    The bar sign showed a grebe-like bird with a large insect stinging its tail feathers.  "Are you sure this is the place?" Callie asked Stout.

    "The message said at the bar, and there's only one in this town," he answered as they both looked around.

    The place was crowded.  The Seven Solicitresses were drinking Barely-Legal Regals (a cocktail made with 18-year-old Chivas).  Across the room, Detective Anna Boswell kept a careful eye on Lord Baldwin Twinge, the leastest of the least grebes.  Editor Fifibelle, a giant pink vampire poodle, was discussing legal thrillers with Dayseye the greyhound copy editor and Learned Hound the legal beagle.  Callie even thought she caught a glimpse of King Yerwizeness.  

    Henry Liable stumbled in the door.  "Scuse me everyone," he shouted, "but Derf the Dragon is outside and he's headed this way."  Caliie wondered how many of the bar's occupants owed money to the infamous reptilian loanshark.

    That question was quickly answered when the place cleared out, leaving only one family:  parents and identical 12-year-old daughters, all of them redheads.  Callie noticed a small item on their table, about the size of a coaster.  The object began to vibrate, and it made a strange ringing noise:  "Froop!  Froop!"  

    Both girls grabbed simultaneously, but the father was quicker.  He grabbed the object and held it out of their reach.  "Frieda, Georgia, what did you do to your mum's phone?"

    "Nothing, Dad."  They spoke in perfect unison, and much too quickly.

    "I know a pair of guilty looks when I see them," the mother said.  "What are you two up to?"

    "Nothing, Mum."

    Callie was now very sure of who Froop was - or would it be, "who Froop were?"  She would have to check with that greyhound copy editor.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Thu May 02, 2013 at 07:54:45 PM PDT

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