This blog post looks at what to delete from your manuscript in order to improve clarity, voice, logic, and flow. By deleting content in your first step of revision, you won’t waste time polishing material you will only remove later on. And if deleting content leaves holes, you can brainstorm and fill the gaps with something even better.
Characters assumes that you have developed the people in your story or have plans to do so. The blog looks at staying true to your characters and your reader. Always, in my book, the reader comes first, the main character(s) comes second, and so on. The blog does NOT deal directly with character development but the tips and strategies will probably help you in this area, too.
Flimsy reactions. A flimsy reaction is a label like “sad” or “startled”. These reactions are flimsy because they are insubstantial. They don’t show anything about your character except at the most superficial level. Delete (or replace) reactions that are not concrete, don’t give insight to your character, or don’t convey movement.
Out of character. Each character is an individual with quirks. When a character starts behaving like a stereotype, delete that action. Also delete moments when your character actively runs counter to his/her own nature IF you are not showing the character’s anxiety and/or reasons.
Overlapping characters. There are good reasons for overlapping qualities – especially in the protagonist and antagonist – but multiple characters who fill the same role, have the same personality, or share similar names, can be confusing to the reader. While an excellent effect when done deliberately for group characters, when you find overlapping characters you probably should consider merging or deleting a few.
Too many characters. This can be confusing for the reader, especially early on, because the reader likes to focus on one (or a very few) characters at a time. When many characters are competing at the same level of importance – especially in the opening sections of a book – someone needs to go.
This is Part 4 of a series of five blog entries that look at deleting to improve Style, Events, Summary and Description, Characters, and Dialogue.
Three very different book on character development…
Edelstein, Linda. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits: Includes Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Traits. Cincinnati: Ohio, Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. 2nd edition.
Hood, Ann. Creating Character Emotions. Cincinnati: Ohio, Story Press, 1998.
Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters: How to Build Story People. Norman: Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.