I’ve been battling my inner editor this week. I got to the point in my WIP where the heroine and hero butt heads for the first time. My heroine desperately needs help, and the hero’s father is the only person who can provide it. Unfortunately, giving her the help she needs will put the hero’s entire family in mortal danger, so the hero is absolutely not going to let her go there – until he discovers a compelling reason why he must (took me ages to figure out one strong enough) 🙂 .
Once I’d got both the hero and heroine answering the call to action together, I knew I had to bring in the hero’s father. My inner editor started to niggle a little, worrying about whether having the hero’s dad on his team diminishes the hero in any way. Does it undermine his alpha status, make him less heroic, less attractive, or less sexy? I decided it was fine, because the hero is clearly the leader and decision maker. Dad is a crucial resource, he’s the blueprint for the hero’s moral compass, and he’s an important and interesting character in his own right.
The real trouble started when I tried to block out the scene between the heroine, the hero, and Dad. Dad is an old soldier, and he’s spent most of his life selecting men, training them and building teams. He lost the high-profile role he loved because Backstory, and since then he’s been officially retired. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that there is no way Dad would ever just quit and spend his time gardening. He’d still have a team, but that team would be his family – his wife, his two sons, two daughters, and the hero’s two ex-soldier sidekicks.
That led me to the realisation that the scene (and the story) couldn’t just be Heroine v Hero & Dad. What happens next must be a matter for the hero’s entire family. They are all being put at risk, so they must be all be informed and willing participants in the action, with clear roles to play, otherwise the hero (and his dad) are a pair of asshats and no better than the antagonist.
I should add that said antagonist also has a shadowy mentor and three henchmen.
I did a quick tally, and as the body count started to climb my inner editor went into meltdown. Even if I drip-feed these people into the story, that’s a lot of characters for the reader to get their head around, and if they’re active enough to be worth naming, they’ll be eating up space that could otherwise be used for the hero and heroine.
I went for a long walk and spent most of it trying to decide whether to go back to the drawing board. In the end, I decided that this is the discovery draft, which means it is no place for my inner editor or so-called craft rules. Community is a big part of who the hero is, so I should do my best to discover who these people are and why my Girls want them in the story. If necessary, I can take them out in the re-write.
So this week I’ll be spending time with a whole crowd of new characters, trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how they contribute to the story.
Do you enjoy stories with strong elements of community and a large cast of characters, as long as those characters are making an active contribution to the story and not just hanging around being colorful? What do you like about them?
If they’re not your thing, why not?