15 November 2010

Stealing the Show

Hey, Friends!

Two weeks ago I went to a motivational conference in Atlanta. What I saw in the people around me and the speakers themselves really taught me about writing/creating stories. Last week we talked about using our characters in a way that contributes to the story as a whole, as opposed to contradicting each other.

This week we're going to talk about unforgettable characters.

There really isn't a rule to how to do this because character connection is so subjective to a reader. But I do think there should be no wasted space, no lazy dialogue, no pointless commentary. Every line, every word, must be intentional. This is something I'm really working on, because there are places in my book where dialogue is weak.

There was a GREAT example of this at the conference.

In the middle of the day, there were two separate sessions that were basically infomercials. When they announced the speakers, we turned and looked at each other, asking "Who?" They weren't the people on the billboard. When the second one was announced, I leaned over and asked a friend, "I wonder how the 'no-names' feel whenever they are announced and the audience barely claps?"

Before she could laugh, the speaker bounded out and said, "Don't worry looking for me in the book, Ladies and Gentlemen. I'm not important enough to be in it". (Or something like that). For the next 45 minutes, he made us laugh like crazy. He'd say something totally ludicrous and say, "Just wait. It gets worse." And then said something even funnier.

His subject matter dealt with making money through real estate (we suspect the two infomercials funded the entire conference), something I know nothing about. But I listened for the entire time. He was literally the highlight of my day, my favorite part about the entire conference. Why?

He spoke from the heart.

He made me laugh.

He spoke the truth. In fact, he spoke life. Though in a secular setting, he quoted the Bible. He even pronounced a blessing over the audience- even though most of them never noticed it.

This minor character none of us had ever heard of completely stole the show. By the end of his talk, I was ready to buy his book just because I wanted to hear his voice again.

He was unforgettable.

I walked away thinking about the minor characters in my stories and how important they are for adding... well, character. That extra touch, the accent, that takes the story beyond mundane.

While they might not have the spotlight like our primary characters, they can make the difference between losing an audience and taking them captive. However, as Jody and Jennifer pointed out in the comments below, it's important that our minor characters do not completely steal the show from the primary ones. If they do, there's a problem. I left the conference that day talking about one guy-James Smith. And his presentation had very little to do with the point of the conference. It was a supporting role.

For minor characters, it's important to remember what Brad Pitt's character said to Matt Damon's in Ocean's Eleven: "Be memorable, but not too memorable." In other words: don't completely steal the show. Just enhance it by doing your part well.

See y'all next week!


  1. AWesome post, Kristen! Sounds like an amazing speaker. Love listening to those. I definitely think we should have fun with secondary characters - use them to add lots of flavor and contrast to the book. Can't wait to read the rest of your posts!

  2. Great point, Kristen! Sounds like he was the type of character that we want in our majors! We definitely want our minors to come to life as well, but not to steal the show. :-)

  3. I've been thinking more and more about making sure my minors help point to the MC's goal.

    Glad you had such a great experience and were able to laugh. I love laughter!!
    ~ Wendy

  4. I love motivational speakers! Glad you got so much out of it. And laughter is always wonderful from a speaker.

  5. I love hearing your stories from the conference! So true that we need our minor characters to play a role to round out our stories but not steal the show.

  6. Jody-

    You are absolutely right! Based on your comment, I'm going to rework my post... it definitely didn't come out the way I was thinking. Thanks for pointing that out!

  7. What a fantastic post!! That conference sounds amazing, and that speaker sounds like so much fun!

    I love your analogy. I think one of the minor characters in my first book is the one almost everyone says is their favorite. I think it's because every time he walked into a scene I was writing, I got excited to see him there. :)

  8. Great post! I had this issue with my last MS. One of my secondary characters was stealing the show. In my rewrites, I totally toned down his charm.

  9. Great post, Kristin! Your description of James Smith's performance reminded me of the importance of minor characters. Just curious, was the conference you attended the one with Zig Zigler? Wish I would have attended! Have a great week!:)

  10. Maria, it was! His daughter was there to keep him focused... after his fall his short term memory was damaged. They brought him out for a few minutes and then showed clips of his famous talks!

  11. This is so true! Minor characters can add so much to a book and even steal the show. Now I want to buy this man's book and I'm totally not interested in real estate! He must have been an excellent speaker!

  12. What a great analogy for our work! I've often had a secondary character steal the spotlight. I love it when that happens!!

  13. That is a great analogy. And sometimes it's easy to come up with funny secondary characters that can steal the show! We have to make them our main characters!!

  14. I was working at a medical conference a couple of months ago when I noticed the attendees were roaring with laughter over the breakfast speaker. There'd been barely a peep from that conference room, except for applause, for the entire conference, but this guy was a hit. He's a stand-up comic-turned-motivational speaker and he was incredible. Regular speakers don't stand a chance against someone with the talent to make people laugh.

  15. See why I love to make people laugh? I can't stand the thought of them forgetting me, even though I'm a minor character in the whole scheme of things.

    What was the guy's name, btw? Did you buy his book?

  16. Some great insights and teaching here. It's so cool that you've managed to turn that whole conference into a wonderful writing lesson.

  17. Hi Kristen -

    I enjoyed the way you compared your conference experience to our minor characters.

    In my first manuscript I have several minor characters that either cause untold problems for my protagonists or influence them in a positive way.

    Susan :)

  18. Excellent example of a show not tell. I love this reminder and I will take a look at my minor characters more-- I want them to be a part and not cardboard people.