Beyond main characters: an in-depth look at your supporting cast and transitional scenes

From Highlights Foundation faculty Jan Cheripko and Hannah Barnaby:
Have you ever looked at a manuscript, be it finished or in-progress, and thought to yourself, “This just isn’t working, and I’m not sure why”? What’s missing? How can I fix this? Here are some thoughts from the faculty of Beyond Main Characters: An In-Depth Look at Your Supporting Cast and Transitional Scenes.

Foundation workshop

Jan Cheripko on Moving the Plot Along: Transitional Scenes
For me, problems sometimes arise because I’m trying to rush the plot along and I’m not allowing the story to flow or the characters to have their say. I marvel at the great novels and movies in which scenes seem to have their own identity and yet move seamlessly from point A to B to C and so on, building to an inciting moment, a point of no return, and beyond. That’s what I want my stories to do.

I want each scene to have its due: whether it’s a picture of a young man alone in a church contemplating the death of his dog, the physical conflict a football player in a fight after a night of drinking, or the tension of the manager of a basketball team testifying in court against a popular coach. Those are the occasions when I think I’ve captured the essence of the scene. However, my computer is filled with finished works, probably never to be published, chock full of scenes that didn’t work. We’ll unpack the reasons why during our four days together.

Hannah Barnaby on Bringing Characters to Life: Supporting Cast
Just as we are defined by our relationships, our protagonists are given true three-dimensionality when they encounter other characters who support or antagonize them. Say you’ve got a great concept and a compelling main character. This gives you a strong beginning, but where do you go from there? Who else lives in your fictional world? How do they feel about your protagonist, and how does he or she feel about them?

Drawing from current young adult books like E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, we’ll examine the role of the supporting cast and figure out how some of today’s most successful authors utilize secondary characters to make their stories come alive.

Posted on: December 9, 2014

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