Characters drive the plot; they evolve, they have flaws, they have talents; they excite and disappoint. Sometimes they fumble the ball and other times they are resoundingly heroic. So how do we edit for our characters? Gabriela Pereira in Writers Digest, September 2015 reminds authors that we should know our protagonist(s) as well as ourself and know the answers to these questions: What drives my character? What does she want and what are her roadblocks? What lengths will she go to to succeed?
After many hours with this character, you know her so well you can leave out important events and insights that leave your reader wondering, “So what? I don’t care.” Readers must have a vested interest in the protagonist’s future. If readers are left with a dismally flat personality, no one gives a darn about her story. Have you ever tried to relate your reasons for loving someone to a friend. Without significant feelings and your specifics, your friend says, “How is this person different?” What’s missing from your description? Details, details, details.
This is a writer’s kerfuffle! Read Pereira’s article for an excellent exercise called, “the sandbox.” My best strategy is reading passages aloud. Hearing the words can be edifying and reveal the flaws. That awareness provides a direction, and off I go!
Last week I mentioned writers should be careful with whom you ask to read your work.
Not everyone would choose to read your genre. How could they be able to give anything beyond a superficial review? They might feel confused about what to comment. The comfort zone for most volunteer readers (or some who receive compensation) is to gravitate toward punctuation and spelling. That is the last of the editing process according to Gabriella Pereira in September 2015 “Writers Digest.“ This is the “cosmetic” stage, and it is the final editing focus. Surprised?
Give your reviewer specific direction. Depending on where you are in your rewrites, you might want a review of characters, or plot and structure. An editor, without direction might be overwhelmed
When requesting a first read from someone you respect, ask that person to review your point of view for consistency. A reliable point of view is paramount to a well-written novel. Who is telling the story? How much is shared with the reader? Do you “jump heads” inappropriately? (I’m still working on that issue and don’t find the incongruence without assistance.) Everything is about the reader. Remember?
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Fellow writers, friends and family may be helpful with your various edits; but be wary. I have been working on my novel based on a true story for a “longer than I thought” timeline. I have done more research than I had anticipated, and I have been reticent about my intrusion into the lives of Ferenc and Musa Ruttka because they were not created characters. They were real people. But that is an aside.
People who care about you and some who do not are not the best choices for an early edit. I have encouraged fellow writers to take comments, sometimes hysterically disparate, with, as my mom would have said, “a grain of salt.” We have endured comments that hurt, confuse, or no comment of any value. Editing our work with people who are smarter than we are is the best policy.
A friend of mine, a person who is guileless, has encountered some unbelievable remarks on her first book. Many were positive to the 9th degree, but some actually funny because they were ridiculous and thoughtless. (Should I say stupid?) Arm yourself against well-meaning, but unhelpful critics.
One step is to ask for what you want, eg. Are my characters portrayed consistently? Does the storyline flow?
More on the editing process next week. Put up your armor and develop a sense of humor to survive.