Green's area of focus is Character and Point of View. I'm not talking about figuring out who your characters are - if you still aren't sure about that, even after a first draft, you're not ready to go over the rainbow yet. With editing, you're looking at Character in terms of whether or not it fits or not. Would your main character use euphemisms like "golly jeepers" or would she just rip right out on a streak that would make a minister blush? E
verything on this list is rooted in one purpose, the most important one of all for fiction writers: connect your reader to your characters. These are both some of the best tricks for doing that, and some of the biggest things to avoid.
- Don't tell a trait when showing it will do. This is close to last week's Orange list ... so it's no surprise that it's the first on the list. If a character is nervous, show him picking at a loose thread on his sleeve while he waits to meet someone, instead of just saying that he nervously sat in the foyer. If they're impatient, have them tap their feet or repeatedly check the clock. If they don't want to be there, they might hunch in their chair or wrap their arms around themselves. When you run into trouble assigning visible evidence of an emotion or trait, try going to a public place and watching people, or remembering how people you know act. Or, of course, you could always check out The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. I've been following them on Twitter for about a year now, and they're both fantastic women and incredibly helpful. Tell them "msfeistus" said hi.
- Backstories and Flashbacks: Yes, knowing your main character's history (and some of the supporting cast's, too) is necessary to crafting a plot that your readers can sink their teeth into and really care about. The tricky part is knowing when showing that history to them directly is necessary! That flashback about the main character playing poker with her uncle is cute, and telling, but while she's in the middle of a high-stakes game that could cost her the last of the money in her wallet, four hours from home with a broken-down rental car... are you really going to want to put the brakes on and tell your reader about it? Maybe she could just coolly rearrange the cards in her hand and hope to herself that all her uncle's bluffing lessons after Thanksgiving dinners paid off, instead. It tells the reader what you need them to know without yanking them out of that vital moment.
- Why are they saying it? Or, in other words: check your dialogue. This is, in my opinion, the worst mistake that can be made with dialogue, and lazy to boot. It's easy enough to have two characters talking about last night's car accident outside their workplace, and yes, in some cases it could make for some really snappy dialogue. But in most cases, it's much better to show one of them having to walk two extra blocks because their usual parking spot is taken up by traffic cones and yellow tape, because they're still cleaning up the broken glass and dealing with the bent road sign on the corner, right? You can see "car accident" written all over that without someone else having to say it out loud.
- Pick a point of view and follow it. I'm not just talking about first-person vs. third-person, I'm talking about whose head you're letting the reader into. If you're primarily putting Elwood in the driver's seat, stopping in the middle of the highway and deciding to let Jake drive isn't going to work so well. If you're going to need to show multiple characters' points of view, be sure to divide the attention you give to them equal, or it's going to jar your reader. For example: From the Desk... follows Buster around almost 100% of the time. Somewhere in my second chapter, I got a little too far into his friend Cameron's head and started telling the reader what he was thinking ... after I'd just spent over 20 pages showing the reader how the world looks according to Buster. It didn't fit with the flow, and I had to rework the passage.
- Don't just describe... transport. If a scene is particularly dramatic or vital, your setting and descriptions should match your character's mood. I'm not saying it has to be raining in every sad scene or that lightning should strike every time your villain breaks into peals of maniacal laughter - though being able to feasibly write those kind of scenes is ridiculously rewarding sometimes (she said, glancing at her outline for book #2). What I'm trying to say is that any setting can be emotionally charged, and any action can be written to betray how someone's feeling while they're doing it. When Katrina walks, is she noticing the way the sunlight catches glasses in a store window and makes them sparkle? If Marvin is drinking his tea, is he huddled around the cup or leaned back in his chair with his feet up? The same alley can look like a wide open space to a murderer or as small as a coffin to the person he's followed there... catch my drift?
Next week we're going into a blue period: there are two shades of blue in the editing spectrum! Please come back and join me for Sky Blue, where we'll start listening to our writing and not just reading it.