Self-Editing Tips: Characters

Fictional characters can be said to be more like musical instruments than real people. They play a role that adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece. They make their own unique sounds, possess their own timbre, and have their own specific range of notes. But they can also fall out of tune or become discordant with the rest of the instruments, or the piece as a whole.

Characters need to be true to their nature, play their role with verisimilitude, and add value to the piece. But they need to be believable. Their actions and words need to adhere to a set of rules a reader might expect to accept. So, yes, they can wield a wand or a light saber, but their dueling banter must still come off as genuine. Their motivations ought to be human, even if their species is not, unless there are well-described reasons for them to act differently. Do they askew romantic attraction, but it turns out they are compelled to find a mate every seven years? Do they grow back a new head if a secret agent shoots the old one off? And if so, then why is this important to the story?

It’s good to be imaginative. But it’s important to be plausible. And consistent. Keep notes, or use a spreadsheet to document idiosyncrasies of your characters, no matter how human or alien.

And listen to real people talking to each other. Go to the mall, or sit on a bench at a popular park, or at the beach, or anywhere people go and chat with each other. Listen. Take notes. What are they saying? What do you imagine they are actually hearing? How long do they focus on the Green Bay Packers before they start talking about baking fails or carburetors or medical procedures?

The more you study human conversation and discern the reasons people make choices, the more plausible your characters will be.

Self-Editing Tip: Weak Modifiers

Before you submit your freshly-written book to your editor or proofreader, do a search through the document and locate every instance of the words very, a bit, slightly, lightly, kind of, sort of, really and maybe. Delete them. Then read through those sections to see if they need those weak modifiers. On rare occasions they might. Some dialog works better with them. But most of the time, they aren’t needed. Not even slightly. Really.

Writing and Editing Paranormal Romance

Strategically, from an author’s perspective, paranormal, science fiction and fantasy are all very similar genres to work on. In addition to strong character development and plot structure, these genres all require intriguing and careful world-building. While it’s true that a world of witches or ghosts is different from one involving aliens, robots, trolls or elves, I still think the environment has to be subtly but deftly imagined and described.

Many decades ago I began writing a fantasy novel set on a remote island in the distant future, where a young character was tasked with locating a certain number of mystic artifacts. I was 16 then, and no idea about the rules of myth or legend writing, coming of age stories, or the Three-Act structure. I just wrote. And while the story rambled on with no clear plot, I knew what the lay of the land was, what kind of obstacles my hero would face, and at least vaguely what the monster looked like.

I drew a map.

Astoundingly, I still have that story and the map, which are both still inside the 32 year-old notebook.

The point is not that the story was good. It wasn’t. But I could pick it up today and start it over again, and the world I imagined is still right there, ready to be described and shared.

Sympathetic characters in my paranormal stories all share a common trait. They have certain types of connections with ghosts. The rules of engagement in my ghost stories are consistent throughout my stories, even if the characters change from story to story.

So as you write paranormal, science fiction or fantasy stories, feel free to jot down your rules. You don’t have to follow established rules from films or literature regarding what zombies or Martians can or cannot do. But you need to consistently adhere to your own rules.

I can help you brainstorm descriptions for your world, or solidify your plot structure, help you develop characters, and, of course, copy edit or proofread your drafts. Contact me at steppenwolfedww@hotmail.com, because your book deserves an extra dose of awesome!