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A while ago, I started writing a short story for a competition. It was supposed to be about four girls in a shared student apartment. The plan was to have everyone conflict with everyone until they united against a common enemy (the landlord or the exams - I haven't reached that far), and learnt to put aside their differences.

I soon ran into a problem: one of the girls, a vampire, had much more oomph than the others. She was in conflict with the werewolf girl because werewolf, she was in conflict with the Ifrit girl because the latter belonged to the nationality whom the former blamed for being dead, she was in conflict with the religious vanilla POV girl because a religious issue is how she ended up a vampire instead of being dead-dead. Most of all, she was in conflict with herself, because dying and waking up a vampire really threw a wrench into the plans she had for her life. She was a walking-talking explosion.

The other girls had their conflicts, but those conflicts were mundane. Vampire - she was boiling over, which caused her to dominate every scene, and every scene without her became drab by comparison.

I tried to amplify the others' existential anger, but then there was so much conflict that the story got mired down in arguments, and wouldn't progress. I tried to make it Vampire's story and get rid of the others, but that didn't work either - she needed the other girls to bounce off, they allowed her to let out some pent-up rage. They "represent" in a way the people/bodies/situation she's angry with.

How can I address such a situation, when one character in a group is drastically overshadowing the others? Please note I am interested in general approach answers, in the spirit of the two examples I presented in the previous paragraph. I am not looking for specific "write this" answers - those are off topic, and wouldn't help anybody else, nor me when I run into such a character again.

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    Do any of the other roommates have Special Powers (or might they develop them, like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course it starts with the title name and skill, but also Willow grew from Research Person to Magic User, Giles was a different type of Watcher...) If not, then it seems like it's 1 Main Character and 3 supporting characters. (So they're there to help show something about the Vampira, like Faith's disposable Watchers). If they each have a thing (werewolf, mummy, ghost?) , then there's probably more chance for balance. – April Mar 8 at 16:32
  • Many hew to the idea that it is best to "let the character write the story." – DukeZhou Mar 8 at 21:51
  • @April There was a werewolf girl, an ifrit girl, and the POV girl was vanilla, and rather surprised by it all. – Galastel Mar 8 at 22:56
  • If you're stuck with a character who steals every scene, stuff her down a lift-shaft. Problem solved. – Valorum Mar 9 at 20:36
  • Galastel, I recommend making a discussion chat and linking it for people to talk about your story a bit more vividly. This way, we can find the specific issues and help you smooth them out. Just as a thought. – Sora Tamashii Mar 11 at 5:55
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My approach (which I have taken) would be to abandon that story, think much more about Cindy the Vampire, and write a story in which she is the sole hero, and her anger and explosions end up having some positive effect on the world, and she comes to terms with the loss of her old life, and embraces her new life, anger and all. She just learns to channel them into something good. "Angel" the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, did something similar.

I don't suggest rewriting Angel, I'm just noting that the concept isn't too far out.

You have a strong character! Don't throw her out, give her a job.

To me, one of the more difficult things about writing is finding a strong character that isn't just a flawless Superman (or Superwoman). Your vampire sounds good, she creates conflict, she is special, and she is flawed (angry with pent-up rage). Give her some hints of an underlying sensitivity and altruism, which we will want to come to the fore eventually, and you have a character transformation story.

This can be a Young Adult novel, coming-of-age, or a New Adult novel (for 18-28 ages) that are generally also a kind of coming-of-age story, just about an age range where people are out of high school) and independent but still trying to figure out who they are and what they do in the world, romantically and/or professionally.

You have a good character. Find her weaknesses, find her strengths, find the good in her, even if it has been buried in her rage. What does she DO in a day? Is it satisfying, or does she hate it? What would she rather be doing? Is it just restless energy, or is it driven by some underlying passion? (I would) put aside the short story, that was just a stepping stone to finding this character. Don't lock her back in the coffin. Embrace her, and you have the titular character of a novel, or even a series, The Adventures of Cindy the Vampire.

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    She sounds, at her core, to be just angry and hateful because of the hand she was dealt in life. I wouldn't throw the story out to focus on her, but (instead) use the intended POV character to help break through the hardened outer shell, likely by having the vamp get into trouble where POV-girl is the one to save her. This shouldn't change the Vamp on a dime, but it should serve as a catalyst towards change. Tossing a story in favor of a character doesn't sound like a good idea to me personally. shrug – Sora Tamashii Mar 8 at 14:55
  • @SoraTamashii I am a discovery writer, all my stories begin with a character, and center on that character and what she does. The plot is important but secondary to me; my character is thrust into a problem or situation that exploits her weaknesses, often her talents will help but are not enough to overcome the challenge. She must learn something about herself and overcome a personal weakness in order to prevail. I plot on the fly, I do not pre-plan a story. I generally have an idea of the ending, as a compass point, how she will change to win, but I discover the story as I go. – Amadeus Mar 9 at 15:20
  • I can understand that, Amadeus, as I write in a similar style. I build my worlds to fit the story that I desire to share through my character(s), not the other way around. The problem I am expressing with your answer is founded upon the basis of which Galastel's writing style is. It's more of a plot-oriented story where the characters need to follow a general path and not a character-oriented story where the cast reaches a generalized goal. The characters are a means of expressing the story, whereas we write the story as a means of expressing the characters. Answers need to account for that. – Sora Tamashii Mar 11 at 5:45
  • In short: My criticism is of how you are pushing that Galastel changes their style for your style, which just doesn't work as it is not what they are comfortable with or at the very least it is in conflict with their work so far. You should never tell an artist to throw away everything they did for their creation just to redo everything in a different way if there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Just nudge them to polish the rough parts a little at a time so that they can actually learn and grow. – Sora Tamashii Mar 11 at 5:50
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    valuable in her story for her and saying to focus only on that. She clearly doesn't want that or she'd just focus on Drucilla, no question needed, but that's beside the point. Also, the question reads to me as somebody who has a system that works, they just don't know how to balance character screen-times. For a character like the Vampire, that's a hard thing to do because it's SO easy to mess up. The comparison would be more apt to Spike than Angel as a result. The system is writing the plot and fitting the characters in as pieces. Vampire is just a larger, neon piece than is needed. – Sora Tamashii Mar 11 at 13:19
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If your givens aren't working, change your givens.

If Vampirella McExplosia is dominating every scene she's in, then she's too big for this story. Save this draft (so you aren't putting a stake in her, just moving her) and rewrite your story entirely with someone else as Roommate #4.

You will have to change plot points, and probably the entire main conflict of the story, but it will solve your problem. She's a great character who's the wrong fit for this work.

See also My cool character is doing nothing for the plot. How do I deal with him?

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    You can also use that source of conflict as an earlier story point for your new Roomie#4. "We used to have another, but [insert snippet here]", then show how your characters reacted to that change. – Anoplexian Mar 8 at 19:18
  • @Anoplexian I like it! – Lauren Ipsum Mar 8 at 19:37
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    +1 for "you aren't putting a stake in her". – Russell Borogove Mar 9 at 1:32
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You have two different options for dealing with a character that overshadows the others. But before making a choice, ask yourself:

What is my aim?

If the character is disrupting the path to your aim, then ask if you want to maintain that aim, or if you'd rather discover a new one that best serves the character.

Option 1

Your original aim is a story of four characters at odds with each other that must learn to overcome their differences for the greater good. For it to work, each character must have a legitimate problem with their colleagues which will be solved through the tale.

In reality, you have three characters with minor problems and one with three major problems. The cast is unbalanced.

If you choose to stick to the original idea, you must balance their problems. I'd suggest going back to scratch and make a diagram of what is causing strive amidst them. Make sure it all balances out. If you end up on the same spot, focus on the other three and up their stakes until they are at the level of Ms Vampire (though, perhaps, make their personalities less explosive, or they'll kill each other before the story can start).

It seems to me that, as it stands, Ms Vampire's problems with her roommates stem from not accepting what she became. Could Ms Werewolf feel similarly about her condition? What about Ms Vanilla Religion? Perhaps she is hiding doubts about her religion which are shattering how she identifies and cause her to be self-absorbed? What about Ms Wrong Nationality? Could she be suffering from culture shock at deep level, causing her to slowly slide into depression while trying hard to accomplish her personal aims?

In the scenario above, all four are struggling to find their identity but end up lashing at one another. To develop, they'll learn to support each other.

Option 2

You are willing to change the original aim of the story and find a new one that better serves the now main character. Where, before, you had four women who needed to learn how to work together, now you have a tortured character who must learn to accept who she became.

Look at the other three characters. From what you presented in the question, none of them are a problem. It is Ms Vampire who has personal issues with what each one of them represents. They do not really have to undergo fundamental changes; it is Ms Vampire who does. The question is, will those three bother to spend time and emotion on an angsty brat?

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Introduce the actual plot?

You may or may not actually have a problem. You have a character who is inherently more interesting than the others, she will naturally dominate the part of the story focussing on character introductions and set up.

One solution is indeed to balance the characters but you can also just move forward and introduce plot(s) that directly involves the other characters. If it is interesting the characters will be more interesting and the story will balance out.

If you naturally started with one character dominating, the easy way would be to keep it up by splitting the story to four parts each of which is dominated by a single character. A spotlight approach where each target is illuminated in its own turn.

Naturally you may also have on actual problem and need to really balance the characters but other answers will almost certainly cover that well enough so I won't.

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Your problem seems to be in that you simply have a character who is appearing too often for her personality type. Since this is supposed to be a short story, this gives you a bit of a problem. After all, how do you appropriately focus briefly on a character when you do not have too much room to write? As for the detailed answer, I don't have that for you without telling you to write your story my way, which would not help you as a writer grow. All I can do is point you towards an example to draw inspiration from: Refund High School.

In Refund High School, one of the major characters, Mari, is heavily similar to your Vampire. We see her start off as a strong and loud (READ: bratty) character, but she's tolerable because we only see her for moments at first. As the story progresses, she becomes a more important and pivotal character as she starts becoming a more likable and well-rounded character. She is still the bolstrous brat spitfire she started as, but her energies have since been redirected in a way to improve upon herself and her life. I feel like you could get some inspiration from here in order to push your Vamp through to being not TOO much, but (rather) just enough.

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I see two big options:

(1) I agree with @LaurenIpsum that if your given's are working, change them.

(2) Take this as an opportunity to develop one or more characters. Maybe the shy one needs to come out of the shell and put Vampire in her place. Maybe Vampire needs to learn something about peace and complacency.

Letting the characters grow are some of the most profound and engaging elements of storytelling, IMO.

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I think you might be able to kill two birds with one stone here.

If Vampire is dominating every scene, it seems like killing her off would allow you to develop the other characters much more easily. But literally killing her off isn't the only option; you just need to silence, her, so a kidnapping or serious injury would also work. Even better, the incident that dilutes the scene could be caused by something that the other three could bond against; perhaps the stress of exam week causes her to attempt suicide, or the mean landlord ran her over with a car, or she gets in a fight somehow - you get the idea.

I agree with the others that the easiest way to avoid the problem is going to be to reduce the input from vampire rather than increasing the others' conflict.

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    I'm sorry, but you're suggesting a bit too much violence against her aren't you? Surely killing her off, literally or figuratively, is too much and likely against the spirit of the question. The issue comes from the hand she was dealt. By that same token, the most character removal needed is the POV character spending as little time as possible around Vamp, meaning just when both are at the dorm which, as someone who has had roommates, can be surprisingly infrequent. – Sora Tamashii Mar 11 at 5:57

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