I recently got the advice that my NaNoWriMo book needs some serious character revising and since this suggestion came from someone very experienced in the publishing field, I decided to definitely give it a go. One of my characters didn’t have strong motivation, one of them seemed too generic, and a relationship between two of my characters seemed a little unexplained. Once given this observation and rereading a few scenes, I realized how true this was and decided I needed to do some work.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject of revising – I doubt I’ll ever be an expert at the rate with which I realize how many things I don’t know about publishing – but I thought I’d write a post about my experience with character revisions and my revising process.
Revising characters, I’ve come to realize, is in many ways much easier than other types of revising. With characters there are natural and easy places to fit in new ideas or mannerisms. Characters talk and think and interact with each other and when skimming through your book it’s easy to find those places.
Step 1: Read your manuscript.
The first thing you should do when editing your novel is sit down and read it straight through as if you’re the reader. Imagine you just bought the book or got it from the library and are sitting down to read it – forget the fact that you wrote it. This way, you remember everything that goes on and your memory is refreshed on characters and plot points. Keep paper and a pencil nearby to jot down notes or typos.
Step 2: Color code your characters.
The first thing I did was go out to buy highlighters, note cards and sticky notes. I got four colors and assigned three of them to three of my characters (I only have three main characters in my book, if you have more, there are definitely a billion more highlighter colors you can find), then I took my last color and designated that for typos and other plot problems.
Step 3: Create character outlines.
Once you’ve designated colors for each of your characters, go through and figure out who your character really is. If you’re anything like I am when writing a book, you probably write your novel and slowly figure out who your character is without outlining them first. If not, re-outlining your characters can never hurt. Three important things to ask yourself about each of your characters are what are their wants, fears and secrets? If your character has no motivation, then the story doesn’t make sense. And everyone has fears and secrets. Find out what your characters’ are.
What I did was designate note cards for each character and each topic; wants, fears, secrets and relationships with other characters. This helped me realize where my plot points were thin and what needed work. Identify the plot holes and get ready to fill them.
Step 4: Read your manuscript again, with character revisions in mind.
Every time you come across a scene dealing with one of your character points that needs revising, or could possibly be revised, highlight it with the appropriate color. Write in the margins or on note cards what you’re going to change and put your character’s color sticky note at the top of the page to go back to later.
Step 4: Make the changes on your computer
Go through your manuscript, find the areas that you need to change, figure out what it is exactly and change it in your computer document. There’s really nothing more I can say about this step.
One thing I’ve done with a few of my novels, is print out the manuscript again (with the parts that I changed highlighted) and re-read it, looking for more errors, anything I missed, and anything else I want to change. Depends on how much work my manuscript needs (or how lazy I’m feeling 😉 ).
Now, go buy yourself a Starbucks or something. 🙂 Yum.