Quite the Character

So, lately I've been realizing that pretty much all of my characters- at least my good ones- live inside me. Okay, not literally, but you get the idea.

At some point, I started taking personal character traits, exploiting them until they no longer represented (only resembled) myself, and then formed these traits into various characters. Call me schizophrenic, but it seems to be an approach that works.

If you having trouble with characterization, try complicating that particular character. Think of a trait you can identify with, perhaps even a trait about yourself, and imagine how giving the character that trait would make him or her more three-dimensional and believable.

Another perk to using this method of characterization is that you are intimately connected with your characters without even trying to be. One of my main characters is a bit germaphobic, which isn't difficult for me to describe because I myself cringe before touching a public door handle.

I'm not suggesting you make your characters autobiographical, because they'd all end up the same. What I am suggesting is that you use traits unique to your own identity to enhance your characters.

What are your thoughts about this method of characterization? Have you tried it before? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Do you have any other suggestions for strong characterization?


Switch It Up

Chances are, if you're revising a completed first draft of a manuscript, you're going to start feeling burned out. It can be difficult to stay motivated and focused, especially when other projects call for your attention. Here are a few suggestions I have that I hope will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

1) Pray. Don't forget to reconnect with the Lord, who's the reason you're motivated to write this book anyway. If you lose your connection with him, you'll start feeling like what you are doing doesn't matter. Look to Him and the Bible for encouragement and affirmation.

2) Do something fun. Check Facebook for a while, or look at a few ebay auctions. Maybe you can find something that would be cool to write about.

3) Change your surroundings. If possible, go on a weekend trip. If not, go to Starbucks. A change of surroundings makes the world of difference in terms of reframing your perspective.

4) Have a friend look at your manuscript. There are only so many plot holes you will be able to see, because this book is your baby. A good friend, on the other hand, won't hesitate to tear it apart and tell you what works and what doesn't.

5) Stop overloading yourself with information. Getting ready for conference season, I've been trying to educate myself as possible lately, and finally struck a breaking point where I realized there was no physical way to internalize all the information the internet has available to me. Don't get so bogged down researching that you stop doing what's more important: writing.

Hope these tips have helped you. Do you have anything to add?


Kind of Really Need to Not Be Wordy

So, as I'm revising my manuscript, I'm realizing how wordy my first draft was.

I think there's a great temptation to explain too many things to our readers, most likely because in the first draft we are still trying to explain them to ourselves. :)

It's taking me quite a while to do, but I am going through sentence-by-sentence and editing out every unnecessary word.

I've found one of the biggest problem areas I have is my dialogue beats.

I probably have a million -ly endings tagged on to words, for a quick adverb fix.

He said sincerely. She laughed awkwardly. He grinned widely. She inhaled deeply.

Now, I think you can get away with the occasional -ly ending, but not when you are using it as a cop out instead of coming up with clever, specific language.

Instead of telling the reader how something is said, find a way to show that. How did the character's facial expression change when he or she heard the news? What can the character be doing in the background of a conversation that will mirror what is happening in the literal conversation?

Try doing a Google Images search for facial expressions you imagine your characters to have. Or, grab a mirror and imitate the expression with your own face. You may be surprised what you come up with.

If you're like me, you might have a lot of inhaling, coughing, and giggling. Be on the lookout for pet words you use frequently. It's okay to repeat yourself, but not to be redundant.

If you get rid of these -ly endings, you may have more words, but your sentence will likely be less wordy. Big difference.

Also, try this exercise: pick a particular passage in your WIP that you know is wordy. Then, go through and cross out every word that is not furthering your paragraph. This exercise might shrink your paragraph down to a couple sentences, but that's okay, because it will likely help you come up with new material.

Any time you can avoid wordiness, you pack more meaningful information into each word, just like a poem. This helps with pacing. And strong pacing is always a good thing.

Questions for comment: What strategies do you have to avoid wordiness? Are there any particular ways that you struggle with this topic?

Kill Your Darlings... and Your Contentment

So, whoever came up with that whole kill-your-darlings bit was a smart person.

You've undoubtedly heard it before: if you love a line in your WIP so much that you can't imagine deleting it, you probably need to.

When I first heard the saying, though, I have to admit I was skeptical. Probably because I felt like it erased any ability I had to objectively critique my work. If I thought something was good, who was to say my judgment wasn't good enough?

Well, let me tell you, after hours of macro-editing my WIP over the past few days, I have been converted. I have deleted entire scenes that I once thought were brilliant. And you know what? The new stuff is way better.

I think what happens is not that we suffer from some inability to accurately perceive our own writing as good or not good (although that might be true sometimes too), but rather, that whenever we think a passage is particularly strong, we become content with it.

Contentment in writing is a dangerous thing.

It keeps us from pushing forward. So yes, maybe your "darling" really is outstanding, but if you delete it, you'll leave an empty space that pushes you toward something even better.

After all, you wouldn't want to delete one of your favorite lines, only to substitute it with something lame.

Something to think about.

Do you have any examples of how this principle has worked in your own writing? Have you been hesitant to "kill your darlings," even when you had a gut feeling they weren't bettering a passage?