When it comes to some of the minor characters in your novel, how well do you need to know them?
The obvious answer is as well as you know every other character in your book: Inside Out.
My editing this week has been stalled by the fact that one of the current scenes in James’ story occurs with Madeline’s father – Noah. In my initial draft of That which is left is lost I didn’t really think about Noah, or his motivations. All I really knew about him was that he stood up for Madeline when she accused Cecelia’s father of abusing her, took his position as a police officer a step too far and as a result lost his wife and gained a drinking problem.
In this part of the story, however, he and James are having a ‘father-son’ session: Noah has drunk too much and lets slip some of the details of Madeline’s past. Not too much, but just enough to peak the reader’s – and James’ – curiosity. In fact, he issues a warning: don’t believe everything that Madeline says, as she’s a very good storyteller.
Reading this part of the novel back I have scribbled lots of notes in the margins about why Noah would reveal this, why he appears to be so angry in the scene and what prompts this vicious warning about a daughter he so clearly dotes upon. Even as the writer I didn’t believe that Noah would act this way. After all, if he loves his daughter, believes that she was abused as a child and is ashamed of this past – why would he bring it up with the boy intending to marry her?
At the same time, however, I need Noah to act this way to ensure that the plot works. Therefore it called for a little more soul searching with my character. Until I ‘talked’ through his anger in my mind (I like to pretend to have conversations with my characters – jotting down any notes that help me understand them) I really didn’t understand why he would turn to alcoholism, or if he still believed Madeline’s story about being abused, or even why he would want to warn James exactly what he was getting into.
Now I feel more confident in this scene: I know what Noah’s motivations are and that they contribute to his character in a meaningful way. Even though he only appears as a minor player in two sections of my novel, it’s still important for me to comprehend his motivations and invest in his own story: he still needs to be a fully-rounded character for the novel to work.
So, despite some struggles with characterisation this week, I’ve managed to get some issues sorted with the novel and still write up a little of Cecelia’s Story – though I plan to catch up with my 6,500 word target for this tomorrow. Editing is still slow going: but hopefully now I’ve addressed Noah’s character, I should be able to move forward with more ease.