Seven Edits part 3: Character Revision

This is the first really big revision. It’s also my favorite revision, because this is when I see real depth coming into my story, and I start really rooting for my characters. It’s also when the humor, emotion, and human connection smooths into something really meaningful.

The idea in the character revision is to make sure your characters (especially your protagonist) have interesting, growing, believable personalities with whom readers can easily connect. Chances are, your protagonist at the beginning of your first draft is a different person than when you completed your first draft. Now’s the time to go back and make those two personalities into the same, consistent character.

  1. Decide exactly what each major character’s arc looks like, and make their progression (or digression) consistent with that arc. What did he/she start out as? What does he/she become by the end?
  2. Make sure every major character (good and bad) has strengths, weaknesses, attributes, and flaws. If you’re an outliner, write them down. If you’re a pantser, speak them aloud, and think of instances where the characters flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and attributes were demonstrated in the story. Keep in mind that for every “rule” that your character has for himself, he will have exceptions. Those exceptions may or may not show up in the story, but if you know what they are, that knowledge will inform the story, and the character will come across as dynamic and interesting.
  3. Every character should have his/her own unique voice. Go through and make each dialogue voice consistent with the personality you decide on. Do a word search for common words like, “scared,” or “fast.” Every time they’re used in dialogue, appoint different words for each character. For example, Jane might say, “scared,” but Bob prefers, “frightened” and Mary usually says, “freaked out,” because each personality fits the word they prefer. When you’ve done this with enough words, match each bit of dialogue with the personality of the character. This will do a lot to weed you’re personal style out of characters that are supposed to be quite different than you and each other.
  4. Check each chapter for the emotional energy level of the characters. If there are too many low energy levels, up the tension. If the energy level is too high for too long, insert a few calm moments—really short ones. High emotional energy is especially important in young fiction. If kids don’t experience enough emotional roller coasters, they’ll get bored and leave the park. Keep the emotional reactions consistent with the characters, and decide how each character responds to his/her own emotions. When it comes down to it, emotion is where character shines. Just remember to “show” the emotion, and not just “tell” it.

Ultimately, you want your readers to love the characters. Even antagonists can be lovable to some degree. Think about the best villains you’ve read. Chances are, it’s their character that draws you to them. That said, there should be some things about your protagonist that your readers don’t like. The trick is to present those unlikable characteristics in a way that draws the reader deeper into the story.

If you’re writing nonfiction, this is the draft where you decide the personality of the narrator. Most the time, that’s you, but you need to decide the tone you’ll take throughout this book. Obviously, for different subjects, there will be varying levels of emotional energy, solemnity, and humor. But you need to decide what fits where, and how to portray each new idea, story, or suggestion in a way that will connect emotionally with your reader. As a human being, you’re far too dynamic to fit your entire personality into one book, let alone every chapter. Choose which aspects you’ll focus on. Remember that even in nonfiction, you’re acting, and you want to put on the best show possible. Have you ever watched a really compelling documentary? It’s not the flat words that draw you in. It’s everything else–the images, the music, the narrator, and the over-arching flavor. In writing, you’ve got to capture ‘everything’ else in your voice, descriptions, and emotional energy.

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About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

2 comments
Canda Mortensen
Canda Mortensen

I like to do these up front, before I start writing. I'm going to add in a few of your ideas to my character brainstorming. Thanks!

alice
alice

Thanks Chas. This is just what I needed today since I'm currently working on character edits!