Sorry for the week hiatus. It’s amazing how busy a four-day week can be!
When I take a piece into a writer’s group, I have a general sense of where the weak spots are: info dump, motivations aren’t explained, etc. The group usually confirms that this didn’t quite work or that was too much. However, there are times when I’m blindsided; times when a part that I never gave a second thought to gets picked apart.
In the story I’m currently working on, my character is told that she was a surprise, an accidental pregnancy. While no kid wants to hear that, I didn’t think that revelation was shock worthy, or even really ponder worthy. My group, however, wanted to pick it apart. Were the parents stupid? How did they not know how these things worked? Did the contraception fail? Did they fail to use contraception? What kind of contraception were they using, since that can affect the effectiveness? Did the mother think that she was too sick or that her body was unable to get pregnant?
I think I know my characters and their motivations pretty well, but I couldn’t answer my group’s passionate questioning. I knew my character was an accident and I’d left it at that. I didn’t dig into the sex lives of my secondary characters. I hadn’t given a second thought to rhythm method versus condom versus diaphragm versus heat of passion and being without.
I also don’t think knowing adds anything to the story. Obviously, something about that scene bothered the group. Now it’s my job to figure out what, exactly, it is.
It’s important to know your characters, to know what drives them and to know what they do, even beyond what gets into the story since it’s their entire background that lays the foundation for how they react with the world around them. However, it seems to me that it’s OK to have a limit.
What do you think? How much do you have to know about your first and secondary characters? Do you need to know the same level of detail about their lives?
And have you ever been surprised by what your reviewers focused on during critiques?