Balancing Reader Feedback with Story Constraints

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Today I wanted to bring up an interesting conundrum I’ve been facing as I write the third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. In a story that is effectively about how one family — and one woman in particular — deals with her entire life being upended, I’m now trying to add more characters.

Uprooted is also a novella. I only intend for it to be 35k-40k words if I can help it, so adding more characters seems counter-intuitive on the surface.

Alpha Reader Feedback

Back in December I asked a couple people to read the second draft of this story and provide some feedback. One of my readers gave me great feedback that I’ve really tried to take to heart in this rewrite.

She said that in settings like mine — a small village in a firmly patriarchal society and culture — the characters would likely have much stronger kinship ties than I had demonstrated in my draft. I focused intensely on the nuclear family of my characters, but that left this reader asking about their immediate relatives, cousins, siblings. aunts and uncles, and the like.

The crux of the story is that tragedy strikes this village, causing my characters to flee. With this now expanded family dynamic, my characters are not as isolated as they had been, but the dynamics of their struggle change. They now have to feed 10 or 15 mouths rather than three or four.

But that’s also 10 or 15 more names to keep track of as the story progresses.

Too Many Characters?

I agreed 100% with this feedback, and I built out a family tree for my protagonist’s family and their clan. This meant that I had to explain what happened to a lot of those family members alongside the more immediate narrative of my characters. What I’ve noticed is that in my third draft, I have to decide when to talk about these extended family members, and when to leave them out.

It should be obvious that the larger clan is still traveling together, and I don’t want to have to list the actions of every single member each day. But I also don’t want to ignore these characters’ existence. After all, they make up the immediate support system for my primary character. She needs them, and thus the reader needs to know something about them.

So I’ve had to figure out how to balance these additional tertiary characters within the more personal plotlines of the three or four characters who really drive the story. If I were writing a full-length novel, I could consider POV sections for a few of these tertiary characters, but Uprooted is not that type of story.

My general rule of thumb has been twofold:

  1. Take a quick tally of the family as they’re moving or something is changing so we (both the reader and I) know where they are.
  2. Try to include these family members in particular scenes, even if they’re just in the background or only offer one line of dialogue.

I think/hope that this makes it clear that these characters are important to the larger family dynamics, but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many names to remember.

Discussion Time!

How do you feel about tertiary characters in a novella? How many is too many?

Steve D

Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading the last month or so, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media.

Spoilers ahoy.

Continue reading “Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1”

3 Tips for Writing Snappy Dialogue

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

The more I write, the more I find I enjoy writing dialogue. The interplay of characters can be really engaging and tends to liven up the story — and the writing process — for me.

However, it can still be a challenge to write dialogue that is both meaningful and compelling. As a reader, dialogue that drones on is somehow worse than long stretches of exposition. So I just wanted to provide a few tips for writing snappy dialogue that moves the story forward and keeps the reader interested. Continue reading “3 Tips for Writing Snappy Dialogue”

10 Stories to Experience with My Kid

My son is eighteen months old now, and he loves listening to stories, turning the pages of books, listening to music, and watching cartoons. I’m not sure how much of any of it he understands, but it’s exciting to watch him experience those things.

A colleague recently told me how he was watching through all of the Star Wars movies with his eight-year-old daughters, hoping to bring them to the theater to see The Rise of Skywalker. He managed to catch it with them just last week, and he said their reactions and excitement in the theater was well worth it.

That got me thinking about the types of stories — movies, books, TV — I’m looking forward to sharing with my son. So here’s my top 10. Continue reading “10 Stories to Experience with My Kid”

Well, Now I’m Playing Dungeons & Dragons

I’m just now realizing that I probably should have taken a picture of our little table on Saturday, strewn with papers, journals, pencils, various-sided dice, and a few beer cans.

After talking about it a few times over the course of the last year or so, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends, and we had a great first night! Continue reading “Well, Now I’m Playing Dungeons & Dragons”

Switching Characters to Spice Up the Storytelling

I’ve had an exceedingly tiresome week, capped off by an exceedingly long commute home today — like, an hour and a half or more. And because I’m writing this on Thursday evening, the week isn’t quite over yet. So let’s listen to some soothing Appalachian-inspired folk.

Writing has also been slow for me, which has been due in part to laziness, but also because I keep spending more time thinking about my short story idea than actually writing WoEL.

Continue reading “Switching Characters to Spice Up the Storytelling”

Exploring the Story – World of Warcraft

I’m not a huge gamer. The most recent systems in our house are a Gamecube, which I’ve had for over 15 years — maybe 20, which is scary — and a PS2, which we just took from my in-laws’ house because my brother-in-law didn’t want it anymore.

However, there are a few games that I will always love to play. The main one, if you hadn’t guessed, is World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that first came out in 2004. I started playing in 2005, and I played off and on until about 2014.

Once again, the drums of Warcraft are beating in my heart, and I’m probably about to start playing again. There are a thousand reasons why I love this game, but the primary one is my love of exploring this world.

Continue reading “Exploring the Story – World of Warcraft”

From Writer’s Block to Overflowing with Ideas

It would be nice if my brain would just balance out for a bit. Like… a week? No? We’re going to swing wildly across the creative spectrum in a matter of days?

Got it.

Through a (completely unintentional) process of reading a fairly wide range of short fantasy stories, reorganizing some of the sections in my draft, and outlining the next few chapters, I managed to collect enough creative juice to write a ton over the weekend for The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy.

And now I have too many ideas and I want to write ALL OF THEM! Continue reading “From Writer’s Block to Overflowing with Ideas”