This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.
It’s character week, editors! If you’ve completed a first draft of a story, it means you have a god inkling of what makes your character tick. You’ve showed a bit of his fears and desires, and had him take action in his life. But how well do you really know that character? And are you setting him to action in as dramatic a way as possible? Are you telling the right story for your character?
The only way to be sure is to dig deeper and examine what really pushes your character. That means looking into other elements of his life and seeing if you’ve really discovered the secrets and the choices that defined him. In the past I tried character questionnaires that made me come up with answers about a character’s favorite music and foods, but I’ve realized all those persnickety questions of taste aren’t all that relevant. Instead, I’ve designed a questionnaire that will help you shape your character’s purpose in the story. Today in your editing journal, try jotting down some noteform answers to the following questions, or finish the following sentences in the voice of your character.
First: rewriting clichés.
Many people see themselves as actors in familiar storylines. Which clichéd storyline does your character consider him or herself to be a part of? Here are a few examples:
1. Forbidden love
2. Dangerous love
3. Love triangles
4. Greed and ambition — stepping on people to get to the top
5. The exotic, mysterious foreigner comes to town
6. The rich jerk vs. the poor nice guy
Second: Top Five “Firsts”
Make a list of your character’s top five “firsts” in his or her life.
e.g.: the first time he/she shoplifted
the first time he/she got his/her heart broken
the first time he/she knew parents were mortal
the first time he/she lied with real consequences
the first time he/she disappointed someone
Make a list of your character’s top five “lasts”.
The last time he/she saw another important character in the story
The last time he/she did an important activity
The last day of school
Third: Use memoir
This time, use your own experiences and alter them a bit to give your character a meaningful life experience.
Recount a significant event from your life, but change one significant aspect of it — if things went the other way, if it had happened in a different time period, etc.
Fourth: Finish the sentences for your character.
Now practice thinking from your character’s perspective. Finish the following sentences for him or her:
I never told anyone…
I did tell one person. God help me. He/she…
I never told anyone, but I’ll tell you…
Have fun filling out these questionnaires today, editors. You may discover things you never knew before about your character. But more important than just static knowledge, you’ll discover things that should change the story and how it unfolds.
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