Monday, June 1, 2015

June 2015 — Characters Who Matter

#6 Revision is a Process

 This is Part 6 of a 12-part series on Revision is a Process @ 2015 All Rights Reserved

There are characters in fiction so real, so palpable, that we can reach out and touch them our whole lives.


So, you wrote your story or novel and now in the revision process, it's time to look at the most common things that might have happened to your characters from when you began the tale and when you finished it.

The first item is NAMES. Both the spelling and the sound of names affects a reader as favorable, unfavorable, or neutral, which happens on a subconscious level more than on a conscious one. That's why it's a good idea to review all the names of characters, things, places, weaponry—everything that you gave a name to.

If you did character and setting worksheets prior to writing, bravo. You only have to do a verifying "word list" to look for misspellings, rhyming, overuse of consonant and vowel sounds, and the penchant for using the same letter of the alphabet too much.

If you are a pantser who has not done a word list (also called a style sheet), now is the time to take a hard look at all the names in your story by using one. If this is your first attempt at a word list, I suggest using lined 3x5 index cards. Use one card for each name of a character, thing, place, weapon, tool, gizmo, etc. That's right, every named item or person gets a card.

As you work through the pages of your manuscript, be on the lookout for misspellings. If you have some oddly spelled words, and you prefer one particular spelling, mark that as the "correct spelling." Why do that? Because it's easy to reverse an "i" for and "e" etc.

Once you have gone through your story, sort the cards alphabetically.

Now, for clarity's sake, no names of people should hold the same alphabet letter as the protagonist, antagonist, and the next major player in the story (usually the romantic lead). Why? Because blocking all other people names from those three letters of the alphabet conveys to the reader that those major story people are exceedingly important. Another benefit is that you avoid confusing the reader as to who is the true protagonist and antagonist.

Yes, you can have a few street names or thing names for the same alphabet letter as your protagonist and antagonist, etc., just not other people names.

Now, back to your sorted cards. If your story has 11 characters, how many alphabet letters did you use? If you have 6 of the 11 names beginning with M, your reader is going to get confused at some point in the story. I lost track of how many times the mix of H names in the Harry Potter series caused me to stop, go back, and reread to make sense of who was doing what.

Here's the thing: the subconscious (your muse) loves rhymes and rhythms. The subconscious also likes to repeat the sound of certain vowels and consonants. By having a word list (or card list) you can sort and "see" what's happened and catch things like Jill, Bill, and Phil.

Then there are syllables to consider. Do you have a mix or do 80% of the names have the same number of syllables? Variety is a good thing. Especially true for your protagonist and antagonist.

Oh, by the way, just how many characters cards do you have? Are you overpopulating your story? You might want to download the free "Characters Per Story Cheat Sheet" (link is below) so you avoid a "cast of thousands."

Here's a tip: before you write your next story, use a word list. That way you can avoid misspellings, rhymes, etc. You can also use a word list after you draft a day's work.

Next, be sure to cross reference the names, that is, put the last name first followed by the first name. This ensures catching repetitions, rhyming, and overuse of an alphabet letter.

Now, on the character cards only, add the following:

Eye Color
Hair Color

Do you have duplicates? Do you have various shades of the same color? Again, the muse-subconscious loves repetition. A good storyteller knows it's bad to use repetitions of anything without a specific purpose.

As to eye color? Make sure the character who began with gray eyes has gray eyes all the way to "the end." You'd be surprised at how many writers get confused in drafting and suddenly the eye color changes.

Do the same for hair colors.
The same things that happen to eye colors also happens to hair color in the heat of drafting.

Some may think doing a revision check for such things is a lot of work. It can be for a pantser, but a little forethought before writing by using a word list could prevent this revision step.

Some writers will say that the plot is more important then the names of characters, places, or things. The reality is that a plot won't work unless the characters are believable story people who have names that, on a subconscious level, are befitting the named item or character in the story.

In summary, here's a quick "Writer's Cheat Sheet" for this revision check:


□     spellings of names
□     overuse of alphabet letters
□     overuse of syllables
□     overuse of vowels and/or consonants
□     rhymes
□     rhythms
□     color of eyes
□     color of hair

Questions and comments are welcomed and are always answered.  If you'd like recommendations on how-to books about this subject, feel free to contact me.

● This blog is updated the 1st of each month and the next topic is SHOW, DON'T TELL - what to cut

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