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 ;).
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.
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 😉
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Next week: One Disguise
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