This week at work we each took the Myers-Briggs test and discussed how knowing our strengths and weaknesses can make us better editors and workers in general. This reminded me of Becca Campbell’s blog post on figuring out your character’s personality types. I haven’t done that yet, but I have for many years had character sheets filled out for my main characters. These sheets include things like appearance, favorite food, things that annoy or make the character happy, and their ultimate hopes and dreams. I don’t know if it is this or the fact that I daydream about my characters getting together for hours on end that made many of my peers in my Creative Writing class say, “Wow, your characters are all really deep, even your secondary characters!”
And it’s true that I do spend a lot of time developing both my main and secondary characters. Sometimes I feel like it is too much time. I feel bad for those secondary characters, knowing that they’ll never get to be the bright shining stars of the show that my other creations will. And then, since I am their creator and ultimate orchestrator of their lives, I think to myself, “Maybe I can just give them their own stories,” and that is another reason why I never finish what I start and have way too many projects stashed away in notebooks on my bookshelf.
A few months ago Aaron Pogue and Josh Unruh came to me with the idea of writing short stories to put in a potential magazine. As an ISTJ personality, I need everything to be planned out and organized and fit into my tiny little boxes of time that I set out for myself, so I said, “Sure, I’ll write some short stories!” and then started to panic because they hadn’t given me any more detail than that.
Over the past couple of months I’ve come to terms with the fact that I know virtually nothing about these short stories that Aaron and Josh want me to write, because I know that they will give me enough information when the time is right. In the mean time, I have been carefully compiling ideas for short stories in my wee brain. You see, I have never written a short story before becuase every time I do, the characters become much too large for such a short work and I end up wanting to devote an entire novel to them. They are like my secondary characters, begging for more attention. I hate to devote so much time to creating a person that will only exist for a few thousand words. So I have recently come up with a solution. I have taken those poor little secondary characters, also the tertiary characters, that I love so much but do not have time for, and will be putting them in their own short stories. The way that this is better is that these short stories will theortically in no way pertain to the original story that they were born from. It will be giving them backstory in a way that I don’t have time to in the original novel. Kind of like The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. (Gasp did I just compare myself in some small way to Stephenie Meyer?)
How many times have you tried to write a short story and ended up liking your characters too much to give them so little space?
Have you ever seen one (or more) of your secondary characters try to take over your novel? Did you have to give them their own book, did you succeed in squashing them, or did they just run rampant all over the story?