Examining Character Balance: The Rebel Queen

One of the things I’d recommend before getting into the actual revision of a writing project is to take a step back and look at the character balance.

To discuss this topic I’ll be using my second novel The Rebel Queen and examining how regularly each character gets a point-of-view turn. (To do this I’m using an Excel workbook that I intend on making available soon).

Does a character rarely get a point-of-view?

Every time there’s a new viewpoint the reader needs to create a little box in their memory to store the character’s personality, opinion and experiences. The reader can only keep track of a small number of boxes, so adding too many is problematic. (Sidebar: George RR Martin is famous for his huge cast of characters, but I think I was halfway through the first book before I could differentiate properly between characters. Occasionally throughout the series I also read scenes not remembering who this particular character was).

Minor characters clog up your reader’s memory and are also likely to be under-developed, crude caricatures of what a character should be. Sometimes a minor character is legitimately required; that’s the only time they should be used.

If a character only has a small number of viewpoints my first preference will be to eliminate them as a point-of-view character. I’ll ask myself:

  1. What is their viewpoint providing?
  2. Are those outcomes critical?
  3. Can another character or a change in circumstances deliver the same outcomes?

In The Rebel Queen the worst two offenders are clear. Den-ta, who gets a single scene in the final chapters of the book is definitely going to be cut. The Prior, who is an important plot aspect is a little harder to determine. I’ll try to cut him first, but if that doesn’t work I’ll resurrect him and pad him out.

However, if the character’s viewpoint is irreplaceable and necessary then I’ll be looking for ways to give them more “air time”. If I can’t kill ’em, I’ll try to make them stronger. Can they be involved in more scenes? Can they replace another character’s viewpoint on some scenes?

Draft Cal POV

I’ll be looking for a few more scenes for the character Cal; trying to raise her prominence.

Are there characters who get introduced too late?
My current rule of thumb is that I don’t want to introduce any new character viewpoints after halfway through the story. By that point everything should be moving towards resolution, not continuing to expand. (Sidebar: Interesting question: Does that hold true in a series? I think so. I prefer the method Robert Jordan uses, taking a minor character who doesn’t have a viewpoint until a later book). Introducing a character towards the end of the story also risks them being a deus ex machina (“person or event which provides a sudden, unexpected solution to a story”).

In George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons poor old Uncle Kevan waited approximately 900 pages for a viewpoint, and dies at the end of the scene. As a reader, it felt like a completely unnecessary death; almost like Martin realised he hadn’t killed anyone recently, so someone had to die. The problem was, I didn’t know who Kevan was, so I didn’t care at all that he died.

Draft General Pkar POV

Returning to The Rebel Queen, even though General Pkar is a significant character in the story, I discover that he doesn’t get a point of view until too late. I’ll be looking to give him a scene or two earlier in the story, so the reader know he’s important.

Are there characters who go silent?

This aspect is more complex to work out (and it seems, to describe too). I’m looking at the gaps between points of view, when combined with plot developments. In the image above General Pkar goes silent for 4 chapters (15-18) but in this instance that is okay – the plot-action is happening elsewhere.

But if there was a plot thread that General Pkar was chasing down and he inexplicably went silent for multiple chapters, that might be a problem.

Note however that they don’t necessarily need a point-of-view; it might be enough to have them mentioned by another character, so that we know they are still around.

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Mind Blowing

Developing a Writing Tool

A quick blog post to announce what I’ve been working on. Some might call it procrastination and not writing, but I prefer to think of it as tool development for myself and for you.

I’m working up an Excel workbook which can be used to keep statistics, plot information and whatever else I think of adding to aid in the writing process. I’m actually pretty close to finishing v1.0, but I really should do some writing so I will try to shelve it for today.

As a taster, here is the Character Point-Of-View chart which can be used to visually display how often a character is getting a turn. This chart is automatically generated based off information entered into a table. Using the drop-down list next to “Select Character” you can highlight an individual character. (This is an evolutionary improvement on my earlier visualisation).

Character POV chart

Mind Blowing Reading

I’ve been reading through Weird Life by David Toomey. Here are two quotes that describe how cells work (page 86 and 87 respectively).

To take one example, when a cell somewhere in your body needs insulin, certain proteins inside the cell pull apart a section of the DNA molecule pairs, exposing the particular sequence of base pairs that signifies one of the many amino acids needed to make an insulin molecule. Other proteins read the sequence and make an ad hoc and temporary copy called messenger RNA. Then, still other proteins work over the messenger RNA, slicing and splicing until they’ve fashioned the amino acid needed. Finally, the molecules of protein and DNA called ribosomes (the structure that, you may recall, may set the lower size limit of a cell) pull the newly formed amino acid together with others made the same way by other proteins, and coordinate with other ribosomes, all now pulling and pushing their own amino acids to assemble a molecule of insulin.

And then

As complex as chores necessary to maintaining a metabolism are, they are in some ways mere prelude and preparations for the main event: reproduction. Familiar life can reproduce, of course, because cells divide. For cells with nuclei, it all begins inside the nucleus, when proteins don’t pull apart merely a section of the DNA molecule; they unwind and unzip the entire molecule along one strand, make a copy, correct and repair proofreading errors, and, from material in the surrounding cytoplasm, fashion a matching strand that winds together with the copy, base locking neatly to a base. Then the parent DNA, its own strands zipped up and rewound, is pulled to one side of the nucleus, the child DNA is pulled to the other, and the nucleus itself is squeezed in the middle until it splits into halves. Shortly thereafter the cell does likewise, with each half holding a nucleus. Where there was one cell, now there are two.

I don’t know about you but to me, that is absolutely mind-blowing.

The irony is, even with talk of having nanobots in the future, all they will be doing is replicating (and improving on) to what our body already does.

Personally I think it takes more faith to believe in creation big-bang style than it does to believe that God’s hand and mind were at work.