It is pretty scary to put your work out for the public to read and criticize. Part of the reason is that, while you want to make changes to make it better, criticisms alert you to the problems, but don’t necessarily tell you how to fix them.
These tips from Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland helped me get out of my rut. (The links are from Amazonsmile, which makes a contribution to your favorite charity if you register for it – Mine is California Council for the Social Studies, of course!)
1. Open with movement. She means this literally. Make the person get up, walk, run, sit – do something. In my first -345th draft I had started with description. I thought it was interesting, but then my husband is a realtor. The rest of the world was not fascinated or captivated, by knob and tube wiring, so this was a huge tip.
2. Open with conflict. Personally I hate conflict, but then I’m a little boring around the edges, AND I am not the protagonist – of course she has some parts of me, but the boring ones had better go by the wayside! So she is huffing off in her Mustang convertible after a little tiff with her dad! OH Yeah, I guess that’s not so different from my life – Dad’s just been gone so long I forgot. Maybe I’m not boring after all!
Nancy Kress suggested several exercises in Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint that helped me refine my character after I got her moving.
- Create a mini-bio. I set up a table and added to it after reading each chapter in her book. One assignment was to analyze another author’s characters. Here is the table I set up, and my brief analysis of Macon Leary from the first few pages of Accidental Tourist.
|Marital Status:||Married then divorced|
|Children:||Ethan – deceased|
|Living arrangements:||Married to Sarah, then living alone|
|Occupation:||Writer of tourist books|
|Degree of skill at occupation||Very good,|
|Characters feeling about occupation||hated traveling, loved writing|
|Family background||Lost a child, buried his feelings in habits|
|Faults||Routines for everything, rituals, depressing habits|
For my own characters I added lines for:
- favorite book or magazine, (I Googled what kinds of books each type of woman might be reading.)
- a full description of an outfit they would wear, and
- what motivates their actions – what do they want from the story and why – the back story.
This activity allows you to mix up your characters more easily. I made one of Vanessa’s conservative Christian friends bi-racial black/white and not white, whose mother was a dancer and singer in New York before she married. I gave another friend potty mouth – and low-cut casual clothes – totally unlike how I originally pictured either woman.
2. The final exercise prompted the writer (me or you) to insert body language descriptions between the lines of conflict dialogue. The main character may be honest or dishonest in his dialogue, but the body language has to be genuine. First I looked up body language for someone who is irritated on the internet. Then I rewrote the brief conflict between Sheena and Vanessa and inserted some honest irritation body language. It didn’t add many words, but I think it added some believability. It was so easy, I did the same thing for her scuffle with her dad.
So there you have it, my best tips for editing Chapter 1. Next, I’ll share Chapter 2 and then in a following post I’ll share additional tips I’ve learned as I read more. 🙂 For you that are more into photography and non-fiction, thanks for hanging in there while I dabble in fiction. 🙂 Happy holidays! 🙂