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.

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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.

Editing Science Fiction

Some say science fiction is a slowly dying genre. But I think there is still a market for it. The challenge with sci-fi is that a lot of writers invest so much mental bandwidth developing a compelling environment, or intriguing fictional technology, that they neglect the two most important aspects of story-telling—character development and story development.

It’s great to come up with an original setting, or the next kind of phaser or light saber, or special super powers that no one has thought of before. But the characters still need to have flaws, they need plausible motivation, and they need to have realistic relationships with each other, bad or good. Good guys need to have a little darkness, and bad guys need a tiny spark of humanity.

Dialog needs to be crisp, sometimes amusing, but always realistic and appropriate for the setting. Too much yippee ki yay and the reader starts to feel like they’ve already read this story. But a lack of humor can also turn away a reader.

The story still needs to follow the Three-Act structure, and a little romance goes a long way in sci-fi. But in this genre, more explosions and fewer smooches are usually a good idea.

I can help you develop your story, brainstorm ideas—outlandish or realistic—and help you keep your characters and dialog sharp and engaging. Contact me at steppenwolfedww@hotmail.com, because your book deserves an extra dose of awesome!

How to Do It All

Linda Formichelli recently released a fabulous self-help book about making the most of your time, choosing your destiny, and leaving behind the stuff that slows you down. It’s called How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life – While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

It’s logical, fun, moves quickly, and her plan is attainable.

And I proofread it.

Buy it, you’ll like it!

Editing Romance

Romance is hard to write because there are so many romance writers out there. Some write raunchy romance; some write historical romance; some write traditional girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl suddenly likes boy, they get married.

I think the key to writing a good romance is to develop really fascinating characters. The reader has to feel strongly for the two main characters, though they both have to have noticeable flaws. The reader has to want the couple to work out. And there have to be plausible obstacles.

But romance also has to follow the Three-Act structure. In the first act, all the players, the conflicts, and the dreams of the characters have to be introduced. In the second act everything has to fall to pieces. And in the third act the hero or heroine shows who they really are, and someone has to get together.

I strongly recommend writers outline their stories. Break up your outline into three acts. Break up each act into a certain number of chapters, maybe 10 – 15 chapters for the first act; 8 – 12 for the second act; and 10 – 15 for the third act. When I write, my chapters tend to be short–1500 to 2000 words–so I aim for a total of about 35 chapters in my outlines, and my first draft tends to expand that to 40 or 50 chapters. Pacing is also important. Some sections of your book need to sprint, while others can be more reflective (though not for too long).

A large portion of the books I edit are romances. I can help you develop your story, copy edit your first draft, or proofread after your beta readers have given you feedback on your third draft.

Contact me at steppenwolfedww@hotmail.com.

Editing Nonfiction

Most of the books I edit or proofread are fiction; romance, historical, mystery, fantasy. But editing nonfiction is a nice change of pace, also. I recently proofread a great book about re-examining every aspect of one’s life in order to determine what really makes one happy, and what doesn’t belong in one’s life. It was refreshing!

I edited a book last year about the history of human rights violations. I also edited a book about Amelia Earhart. And one about the British political system.

One thing I love about editing is that I get to learn about something while I work.

Win!