Project 2012: When Bob becomes Judith

One of the benefits of doing the initial read-through is that you can see the contrast between your characters at the beginning and your characters at the end.  When you finish a draft, you remember the characters as they are at the end.  But reading through the first part of the novel can be a surprise.  Wow, was my character really that whiny?  When did they change goals like that?  Oh my gosh, what happened to her new pizza store?  Why is she running an auto repair shop?

The characters we have in our head before we write are static, but as soon as they touch the story, they become dynamic beings, acting on goals, reacting to events, learning and growing until, at the end of the story, they are changed for better or for worse.  That’s part of what story is; change in your character.

What you need to identify in revision are those parts of the character that changed not because of the story, but because you found a greater truth in your character.  Somewhere along the way you decided that Bob should be a florist, not an air-force pilot, because it’s more truthful to who he is.

And it’s quite easy to forget, when you write “The End”, that your character started the novel with the goal to work her way out of debt with a slightly dodgy mail-order business.  But reading back, you realised (usually around 25-30k words in, I find) that it is more true to the character for her to find her missing sister and address the cause of her destitution, which is her unrelenting punishment of all friends and family, but ultimately herself.

So what do you do with a character who started as A, but really should have started as B?  Usually it means a serious rewrite of the beginning of the book.  You need to bring your knowledge of the character back and revisit his/her actions before the remodel.  Look at her goals, her self, her reactions.  Do they match the character you have written at the end of the book?  Keep that person in mind as you revisit the events of the story.

Characters suddenly getting “interesting” after the first third of the novel is a fairly common comment in reviews, and it comes down to authors not aligning the person at the end of the book with the person at the beginning.  Don’t make that mistake.  Just as plots need to be tightened and trimmed, so do characters need to be fully realised from beginning to end.

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4 thoughts on “Project 2012: When Bob becomes Judith

  1. I’m having a lot of trouble with my read through. I wrote this novel during NaNo and the writing is so distractingly bad I can’ focus on the characters. :) Sad but true. It’s hard not to make corrections as I go. I’m trying to take notes but it still keeps me from paying attention to where I need to pay attention, the story and the characters.
    One another note, I have a friend reading another story for me. She’s at chapter two and she said she didn’t yet care about my main character because she didn’t know enough about her. She told me I should put more backstory into the first few pages.
    I think that putting backstory in the first few pages is a bad idea. So my challenge is getting people to care about a women being attacked in the first 5 pages of my story without them knowing her life story beforehand.
    One idea I had was to add a few paragraphs from the attackers POV…
    The problem with this is that I haven’t written any of the story from his POV. Do I know have to lace his POV through the entire story if I do this? ugh!

    • I don’t think backstory or the villain’s POV is the answer. Have another look and ask yourself, why is this woman not credible? You don’t have to know a character to empathise with her. Read the first chapter of a couple of your favourite books and see how they handle the introduction of their characters. What makes you care about them?

  2. “Characters suddenly getting “interesting” after the first third of the novel is a fairly common comment in reviews, and it comes down to authors not aligning the person at the end of the book with the person at the beginning.”

    Amen! My problem is I can recognize this easily in other writing, but I never know for sure in my own. Arg!

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