don’t mind me, i’m just taking up space

Sometimes you look back on your week and wonder where all the time went. I don’t work a lot. Well, I mean 35 hours a week is a lot to me, but there are a lot of people who work much more. And I don’t really have any hobbies. I started working out, but that doesn’t really eat into my schedule. I write. Okay, now that takes some time, especially since I spend more time thinking about what to write than actually writing. I watch TV. Occasionally. Hell, I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this season’s The Walking Dead! (I watch other shows, I’m just being specific about that one.) But we come to Friday, and I try to figure out why I felt like I accomplished so little. And why I don’t want to do anything else for the rest of the weekend. Like write this post.

But here I am, running on fumes–creatively. Let’s see what happens.

I’m a really quiet guy. I mean, really quiet. In the past, I have been accused of being a (real-life) lurker. I prefer to think of myself as practicing to be Batman. I stand there, all quiet, and no one realizes I’m there until they turn around and whoa! Hey, sup? No, I haven’t been here long. Yeah, I know I didn’t make any noise. Maybe I should wear a bell around my neck?

My quietness extends even further. I don’t usually say hi to people, family, friends, strangers, acquaintances, anyone. Why? I don’t know. I just don’t. If someone says hi to me, sure, I’ll reciprocate. I’m not a dick. I just… seem to be one sometimes. It’s hard for me to fill the space with words whose only value is social. Hi. How are you? What have you been up to? How do you feel? Etc. How other people manage to do that on a regular, several times a day basis completely blows me away.

What it all comes down to, though, is that I leave a very light social footprint. Not sure what I mean? You’ve heard of carbon footprint, right? And you’re familiar with the concept of a footprint in general, I assume. Social footprints, then, refer to people’s general awareness of your existence in a normal social setting. I’ve gone to parties without anyone even noticing I dropped in. I swing by an old haunt, and nobody sees me. Seriously. I’m Batman or something.

I wouldn’t even qualify as an extra, if life was a film. You notice the presence or absence of extras, even if you don’t really notice the extras themselves. (Sort of like black holes. You don’t see them, but you know they’re there by the effect they have.) Now let me be perfectly clear. This isn’t a rant. I’m not complaining about anything. I’m just pointing out a recently-discovered realization. I’m okay with being the ghost in the room. Except when I need to actually make my presence felt. Then it gets tricky.

Writers need to self-promote, and they need to be bold about it. Even audacious, I daresay. Would-be authors or screenwriters just can’t be bashful when talking about a project. I’m pretty sure I covered this on a previous post, but it bears repeating.

Interestingly, this also has some storytelling application. Your characters need to serve a purpose. They can’t just sit there on the page, taking up space, doing nothing. The hero, the love interest, the villain, the foil, the audience. If you find a character in your story that doesn’t play a part, then you should think about cutting him, her, or it. Or even better, combine said character with another character of middling value to make a character of higher value. This happens all the time in adaptation from one medium to another. Book to screen writers learn how to do this, because cinema places an even higher premium on storytelling room. (Ironically, cinema also maximizes the use of background. That is, extras and characters who appear on the screen as, well, background.) If you can tell your story, beat for beat, theme for theme, without a certain character, I suggest you seriously question whether you keep that character. For first-time authors, (maybe even second-time authors), word count has some importance. Not a ton. Don’t start ticking off words like calories. But I think the old adage of “less is more” applies in storytelling. It definitely does in screenwriting. Write big, but write with economy. Don’t use a cast of ten when a cast of five can serve the same exact function.

Don’t get me wrong. I love ensemble casts. Six characters was perfect for Friends. Game of Thrones definitely wouldn’t be the same story with a more traditional-sized cast. Parks & RecCommunity, even Downton Abbey all depend heavily on a rich ensemble. On the other hand, Lost could’ve definitely been improved by some belt-tightening with its ensemble run amok. And Heroes. The list could go on.

We writers have something to say, right? Try to make it count.

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