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effective editing: What do you C?

October 19, 2012
One quick word of thanks to all of you who have returned after 
last week’s distresses: you are AWESOME! My technical troubles  are over, and I’m on the road again ;).

As we move through the effective editing series, we arrive at the letter C for Character, following the map, effective editing ABCs and 123s:

Actions

Benefit

Characters

One– dialogue

Two – rhythm and reason

Three– challenge, compare, and contain

Some suggest you know everything about your characters before you write, to the extent of filling out a biographical analysis. Others let the characters unveil as the writing progresses.

Whichever method you use, or a combination of sorts, these central figures must be believable, dimensional and approachable to readers. A basic persona profile worksheet here touches on every facet – from socioeconomic to spiritual views – when detailing credible characters. Several writers I know base personalities on family members or friends. A word of caution: craft behaviors far enough away from actual people, give them additional traits, and make temperament adjustments. Don’t clone your family.

Traits add dimension, enabling readers to identify with central figures. As you edit your writing, examine it with a keen eye. Avoid stereotypes. One way to do this is to offer an unexpected, yet authentic, behavior or quirk. I’ve read authors who’ve added their own idiosyncrasies, such as a protagonist who can recite the alphabet backwards when she is nervous, or a hero who insists on TCBY’s chocolate sundaes after rescuing the world. Whatever twist you pick, be consistent and be convincing.

Years ago, I ran across a list of traits. Since I’m an organized peep, they’re alphabetized.

able  abundant  accomplished  achiever 
active  adept  affectionate  affluent 
alert  altruistic  amiable  appealing 
approachable  arrogant  at ease  attentive 
attractive  autonomous  beautiful  beneficial 
blissful  bouncy  capable  careful 
caring  charming  cheerful  cheery 
clever  comfortable  compassionate  compassionate 
complete  confident  constructive  content 
conventional  cool  sweet  cordial  creative 
cute  decent  deep  demonstrative 
dependent  domineering  dynamic  ecstatic 
egocentric  elegant  energetic  enthusiastic 
ethical  exciting  expert  faithful 
fiery  free  friendly  fruitful 
full  functional   gentle  genuine  
giving  good  gorgeous  great 
happy  helpful  honest  honest 
hospitable  humane  humble  ingenious 
inspired   inspiring   intelligent  inventive 
joyful  kind  knowledgeable   leader 
liberated  lively  loving  moral 
neat  nice  nice-looking  normal 
nurturing   objective  passionate  peaceful 
perfect  philanthropic  pleased  positive  
powerful  pretty principled  private 
productive  proficient   prolific  prosperous  
proud  quick  rational  reasonable 
relaxed   reliable resourceful  rich 
sane satisfied   selfless  self-sufficient 
sensible  skilled  smart  spiritual 
strong  stylish  submissive  supportive 
sympathetic  tender  thoughtful  thoughtful 
tidy unassuming   understanding   undivided 
useful  valuable  vigorous  warm 
warmhearted  watchful  wealthy   welcoming 
whole  wise  worthwhile zealous 

Think about these as you flesh out qualities, enhancing as you edit. If someone is watchful, inventive, and sensible, how would this person behave if she suddenly came across a snake on her front porch? Say that same soul encounters a car accident: would she stop and offer assistance, drive on by, or pause and call for medical help? When you ask questions about what she would do in diverse circumstances, you see her image unfold. And your story will, too. As you review, you’re looking for a natural flow; remove jarring flaws or instances.

Also keep in mind character dimension comes in different forms: the voice you use for your work (first-person, etc.) how empathetic or not someone is, and how you generate dialogue. For instance, your tag lines (those lovely he said, she said, they said, when folks are communicating) indicate mood and individuality. Stay tuned for more about point-of-view and dialogue coming next week.

The last aspect of editing characters comes with understanding the role they play in your work. They must be approachable. Not necessarily likeable  Something about the protagonist draws a reader’s response that evokes, “I’m like that!” Verify that you’re assigning sympathetic traits, allowing misfortunes or underdog issues to crop up, demonstrating a sense of humor, or showing excellence in a task. Then check to see if there is balance, offsetting positive traits with a detrimental concern about a job, belief, grooming habit, etc. If you’ve accomplished these goals, your characters are fully developed.

Fully developed individuals are memorable. One example of reality is better than fiction occurred when I was on a job interview, many years ago. A clean shaven forty-something man, dressed in a suit, used his letter opener to scratch the inside of his ear while rocking in his chair at his desk. I thought I was going to lose my lunch, and decided then, I wouldn’t work at this office even if they gave me twice my salary requirements! But, I remember this man, what he looked like, and how he behaved. Memorable.

Fashioning memorable characters is the goal. Reader’s need to know what to expect as they travel through a piece, predicting what will happen, and how a personality will behave. Even if it is an initial surprise, it can’t be out of character. Checking and double-checking, you’re dealing with Developmental/Project Editing and Rewriting. This type of editing is parallel to Substantive/Structural Editing, and may consist of major changes.

If your characters aren’t lining up like school children on their way to lunch, then pull them aside and give them a strict ‘talking to’. Ask them what you’re missing, go through the list of identities, or use a profile sheet, and tweak away.

The word choice is yours, as you play the matching game. Authenticate who your characters are, and then make sure you’ve lined up their traits, creating believable, dimensional and approachable personalities.

Until next time, namaste ;)

Have you entered the editing package giveaway? It’s fast and painless, peek at the rules…

Next week: One Disguise

Catch the series:

effective editing intro

effective editing: it’s not terminal, or is it?

effective editing: ABCs and 123s

effective editing: A is for Action

effective editing: The Bs have it…

effective editing: One Disguise

effective editing: Two – Rhythm and Reason

effective editing: Three – challenge, compare, and contain

photo by office.com
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17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2012 5:58 pm

    Character consistency is critical for a story to work…and hard because like wayward children they sometimes like to stop and try on other traits/personalities like it’s a Halloween party.

    • October 24, 2012 1:49 am

      oh, I’m still laughing about that comment, Phil! trying on other personalities, hehehe ;)

  2. October 20, 2012 9:52 pm

    Roxie,
    A check-off list of character traits per character could be very helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

    • October 24, 2012 1:43 am

      Hey Linda, try it and let me know how you like it…or not :)

  3. October 20, 2012 5:27 am

    One of the repeating situations that I have encountered when writing is that my characters redefine themselves. I will have them all laid out nicely as to how I see them being, but once the story starts to flow they recreate themselves. They do become more flushed out (so to speak) but sometimes not in how I had first anticipated, still follows the storyline just not quite as I had originally intended. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not yet! lol

    • October 24, 2012 1:40 am

      True, Penny, as they reveal themselves, it is an awesome process. Then the editing becomes extremely important, to go back to the beginning with eagle eyes for the fix. So glad you brought that up!

      • October 24, 2012 2:08 am

        You know when I was in the marketing world doing content for customers I was a nut about everyone editing and more editing and so on. And still you tend to miss things. Truely amazing, I think if the content is inherently well written (not yours necessarily), you fall in with the story so you see what you expect to see as opposed to what is actually written. Just an observation. :)

        • October 24, 2012 2:36 pm

          Yes, that’s why another set of eyes helps, even is necessary. It’s very plausible for writers to entirely miss words and situations because the info is in their heads not necessarily on the page. One of my last tips, holding out :) , is on how to edit content to avoid those gloss-overs. Thanks for your input Penny, important stuff!

  4. October 20, 2012 4:59 am

    It really bothers me when I read characters who are inconsistent and all over the place as if they have several personalities that the writer has neglected to tell me about. I try very hard not to do that myself.

    • October 24, 2012 1:38 am

      You’re right, Sparks, and when the writer doesn’t fix the inconsistencies, the edit is supposed to catch them, but *deep sigh* sometimes neither take a full look.

  5. October 19, 2012 5:38 pm

    Oh I am sooooo in the camp the find my characters unveil themselves. It’s one of my great joys to discover who these people really are. More than any of my piles of research, this is the joy of writing for me.

    • October 24, 2012 1:35 am

      It is great fun to see them evolve, Yordie…definitely!

Trackbacks

  1. effective editing: Three – challenge, compare, and contain « Roxie's Blog
  2. effective editing: Two – Rhythm and Reason « Roxie's Blog
  3. effective editing: A is for Action « Roxie's Blog
  4. effective editing: One Disguise « Roxie's Blog

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