This much I've learned about... editing for character

January 24, 2018

Editing is like ironing.

 

 

You smooth out the wrinkles so the reader effortlessly glides through the narrative without the imperfections and inconsistencies that would otherwise throw them out of the story.

 

I’ve learned those inconsistencies affect your characters. A ruthless edit means:

 

* a person doesn’t say something that’s essential to the narrative but out of character for them

 

* a character doesn’t speak in a passive voice all the time, so they lack the impact they would have with an active voice

 

* dialogue doesn’t rely on ‘said’ all the time but defines it more precisely than one adverb can ever do

 

* dialogue should only ever be used to define the character and their relationships. Dialogue which does anything else belongs in a script.

 

* identify if the relationships with any one character are consistent? Each relationship must be different, for each person you may be juggling a dozen relationships! 

 

* leave the reader to imagine more than you might. Don’t describe people in lots of detail, give a couple of features that define by implication (such as hairstyle, gestures, skin tone, nervous habits)

 

* listen for the consistency of a character's voice. Yes, everything! Hear them in your head, if you can’t, no one else will

 

* keep the character’s dialogue tight. Don’t use a single word unless it delivers something so essential that, to be without it, would be an omission. Keep looking at each word and ask, what purpose is it serving? If it’s redundant, say goodbye to it

 

These are lessons I’ve learned from painful experience. And a lot of ironing.

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