Make Every Character Count by Dave Ebright

Tonight I’m posting an article by an author friend of mine. I don’t know where I met him — perhaps here on this blog — but now we’re connected at various sites. He’s quite a character, this Dave Ebright, and he penned an award-winning pirate story for young adults called Bad Latitude. (Even the title cracks me up.) Dave’s second YA novel, Reckless Endeavor is on its way to me right now, probably spending the night in a lonely USPS outpost somewhere. I can hardly wait to read it! Adventure, the haunted town of St Augustine, and dead pirates. What’s not to like?  Here is what Dave has to say:

I was participating the other night on Pat’s forum at GATHER, No Whine, Just Champagne (which is a very worthwhile place to hang out & chat about the craft of writing on Thursday nights at 9PM EST — not a paid commercial message) & made a comment that got me in deep trouble with my friend & our awesome moderator. So here I am, making amends & torturing Pat’s readers with … gulp … an opinion. Here’s how it all started (unedited):

(ME) “I actually wrote a blog post on a writerly topic about making every character count — then I realized — Who the heck am I to be writing something about writing? — so I deleted it.

(PAT) “Um . . . Dave? What are you talking about? Why shouldn’t you write about a writerly topic? If you’ve seen half the crap out there about writing that I have, you’d understand that you have more right than most. Did you save any of the post about making every character count? If not, can you rewrite it? I’d love to post it on my blog if you don’t want to post it on yours.

So, here is my writerly blog post.


Make Every Character Count by Dave Ebright:

Google the phrase “Make every word count.” Writers & teachers use it repeatedly in articles, on blogs, in classrooms & as part of ‘how to’ seminars. Great advice but there could be a Part B which should read – make every character count.

Recently, while reading a bestseller’s novel, the need for another form of economy in writing all but screamed from the pages. The book contained so many characters it needed an accompanying playbill for reference. It was difficult to follow & by the mid-point, the slog was on. The plot faltered, confusion set in & my interest waned.

I have written two books, both part of a YA series, with another on the way. As most writers discover (& hopefully strive for), the writing improves from one effort to the next. Word economy can be one result, as well as the decision-making. There are twenty-four characters in my first book. Five of them make only minor contributions to the story. The second book has but fifteen & all play vital roles, affecting the action, enhancing the humor or taking center stage for relevant scenes. Limiting the number of characters was intentional, the result of lessons learned, but I was determined that every character would serve a purpose.

Now forget the “writerly” approach, I’m not comfortable with it anyway. Try this.

The characters are part of your book’s team. You want to pick the best players to participate. You coach & develop them via edits & rewrites to become interesting, memorable, funny or evil. Since it’s your team (book), you decide on who gets the playing (plot) time. Anyone given the privilege to make your team has to contribute or they’re benched, or jettisoned to the bilge of a pirate ship. Whew! Now that sounds more like me.

Writing for only four years hardly qualifies me as an expert but as an avid reader who happens to write, character fillers performing busy work are distractions. Sure, make every word count, but take the same approach with your characters.

Okay – I’m gettin’ back to doin’ what I do best now.

Feel free to chop, edit or delete altogether, Pat – no hard feelings.

I didn’t chop, edit or delete a single word. I was right — this writerly discourse by Dave Ebright deserved a better fate than ending up in the recycle bin. Dave made a good point, one that is often overlooked: make each character count. He made another good point: No Whine, Just Champagne is a great place to hang out on Thursday nights. We’ve been having some wonderful chats about writing and the writing life. Here is a link to the most recent discussion, the one that inspired this post, Maximum Capacity — No Whine, Just Champagne Writing Discussion #170