Lesson Seven from a Manuscript Red-Line: Where did that character come from?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

This is another comment that seems silly when you say it, but when I was thinking over my own manuscript (and one of the comments that a BP made that I blew off) I think I may have one of these mistakes, too.

The publisher red-lined a scene where the phone rings, and there is a conversation, but it is never really clear why the second character called in the first place.  Yes, some important information is exchanged during the conversation, but the reason for the original call is never made clear enough.
The comment from the publisher was that all actions must have a reason from the character that created that action in the first place.

Now, thinking over my own manuscript… There is a point where Magellan and Meagan are in the Aviary when the lights go out.  They are worried about Jerric, who is also in the aviary.  Meagan calls out his name, and Jerric steps out of the bushes and says “I’m right here.”

One of my BP’s said: “that is awfully convenient.”

I think this is pretty much the same thing as the comment above.  There needs to be a reason for him to be there.  Honestly, there is.  He is watching them.  The problem is, I never SAY that, so there is never actually a reason (in the reader’s mind) for him to be able to step out of the trees so easily.

So, where I  “blew off” that comment before, because I knew why he stepped out of the trees, now I am going back to make it more apparent that he was standing there and listening.  I have to let the reader know why it is so easy for him to step out of the trees.

Always make sure there is a reason for your characters to be where they are, and a reason for them doing what they do.  Other wise, as this publisher puts it, it  ends up sounding “contrived” or, as my BP put it “too convenient.”


6 responses to “Lesson Seven from a Manuscript Red-Line: Where did that character come from?

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. That’s actually wonderful advice. Now I’m thinking back on my WIP.

  3. Very good point. Even though you know the person was there the whole time does not mean the audience does. On a small scale this is just convenient but do it enough and you are gonna end up with WTF moments. Something happens out of the blue for no reason except that the author played God. Keep up the good work!

  4. I agree to a certain extent, but I also believe that if you set up the characters enough along the way to know that this particular person is always around and following the kids, then the reader will assume he will be present in the aviary scene. I think it would be info dumping and insulting to the reader to explain why a character is doing something if his actions have been set and consistent throughout the novel. Where an explanation would be needed, in my opinion, is if the character strayed from his normal behavior. That would need setup.

    I had a similar situation with my novel, but the more I read the publisher’s comments, I think they perceived the contact between the two characters ‘contrived’ because it seemed like it was there only to info dump. It wasn’t, but I can see and understand how they thought it was, so, the scene either needed to be re-written or vanish altogether. I decided to cut it in exchange for a stronger scene.

    In your case, I think if you made Jerric an ever-present figure around Magellan and Meagan throughout the novel, then the aviary scene may not be as contrived or convenient as one might suspect. It’s a thought, anyway.

    I have to say I’m loving your posts! Great job.

  5. thewritinghouse

    Great post, caertainly gets you thinking!