It’s amazing how much I have forgotten about my work in progress, the one that’s been paused for the better part of three years. (I’ve been writing it on again and off again for six years, actually. Life and death have so often broken me away from the work, that it’s progressing on an average of 8,000 words a year. At this rate, it will be finished in three more years.)
During the first third of the book, my poor hero was mostly alone as he dealt with the affects of a world gone berserk, which created many writing challenges. It’s much easier to write with two characters so they can play off each other, butt heads, have dialogues, or whatever is necessary for the story.
The second part of the book presented an entirely different challenge — too many characters. I’m typing up a stray chapter, one I wrote three years ago, and it astonished me to count fifteen characters: my hero, his nemesis, three starfish-like aliens, plus ten supporting characters. Ouch.
Luckily, I’d done research on group dynamics shortly after I started writing this book, and so I was able to give each human an identifiable role in the group. As I found out, at times groups act like a single entity, so that also helps in dealing with myriad characters. As I wrote in On Writing: Characters and Group Mentality:
1. Coming together and finding roles
2. Defining the task
3. Disenchantment with the leader, each other
4. Cohesion, feeling like a team
5. Interdependence, acting like a team, becoming more than the sum of the parts.
Most groups unconsciously assign roles to the members, and once these roles have been assigned, tacit agreement maintains them. The most common group roles are: leader, seducer (wants to bewitch others), silent member, taskmaster, clown, victim, oppressor, conciliator, combatant, nurse, young Turk (wants to take over the leadership), the naïf, and the scapegoat.
Groups tend to isolate one person as the source of any conflict, whether warranted or not, and they deposit their negative feelings on that person. Because my hero keeps to himself, and because the others think he’s “teacher’s pet,” he becomes the scapegoat. I don’t think he cares, though, so if you don’t care, are you still the scapegoat? Either way, that’s the role the group has assigned him.
Well, the group didn’t assign him that role; apparently I did once upon a time. It should be interesting to see what other treasures I find as I rediscover this story.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.