Tag: Manuscript

The Spark of Life: Character Development

The Spark of Life: Character Development

I recently had a friend contact me about how to develop characters. He was worried all his characters are too much like him, and what he does to divorce them from him turns them into a farce of themselves. This is something writers struggle with, I’m sure, and character development and growth is tough. It’s not something that comes naturally to most people, and creating “real” characters is a challenge.

So how do you do it? How do you breathe in that spark of life? The first part of that is to make your characters real people. I don’t mean that in a creepy way, but give them hopes, dreams, flaws. These flaws should be real to them—just like ours are to us. My main character in my fantasy series, Archimedes, is stubborn to a fault. He’s pushy and overbearing sometimes when he wants to get his way. At the start of the books, he’s also a bit of a coward and is running away from his obligations rather than fulfilling them. He’s also loyal, honest, and kind. He really wants to do the right thing, but he’s having trouble making it happen.

Regardless of whether your characters are in an alien world or a mundane one, fantasy or reality, they need to be relatable. They will contain archetypes that humanity posses. There are many theories of archetypes out there floating around in the study of psychology (which I recommend researching, by the way—it’s going to help you create more believable characters), but I tend to lean toward using the Jungian archetypes when writing if I need to categorize my characters. You can start with these archetypes because they are based on real people. These are common types of people throughout the world and throughout history. You aren’t limited to them, but they should help you as a place to start.

The second key is to give your characters places to grow. Archimedes, through the novel, faces some of his fears and stands up for what’s right, becoming stronger and driving away his cowardice and fear. He transforms over the course of the novel because of what he experiences. As with real people, we encounter things in life that change us. A loved one’s death, a lover who sees things in us we don’t, war, poverty, fear… all kinds of things change us as we go through life both good and bad. Your novel will, naturally, have these experiences in it for your character. Let them grow and change organically as they faces these trials.

I know many people say their characters take on a life of their own and so on, but that’s only partially true. While, yes, our characters do sometimes reveal themselves in unexpected ways the person ultimately controlling your novel and your characters is you. I do not ascribe to the theory that characters do their own thing because, frankly, they are nothing more than imaginary creations of the writer. While our imaginations might run away with us, our characters are entirely of our own design. To think otherwise is, frankly, verging on mental illness.

As far as divesting our characters from ourselves goes, that’s harder. Each character we create is a mirror for some aspect of ourselves, however small. We wouldn’t have invented them otherwise. These characters collectively are reflect slivers of our souls. If your characters aren’t doing that, and they’re coming out flat, that may be why. I feel for and with my characters as I write. When they suffer pain, so do I. When they feel triumph, I feel that rush. That flow of emotion is something readers pick up on, also. Assuming your writing is good, that is.

That emotion, and that reflection of the soul, is what creates the spark of life. I identify with Archimedes’ struggles, to some extent. While I don’t face the same things or react the same way, he show some of the things that I want to be at my best. He also faces some of the fears I have at my worst. Other characters in my world are similar. That includes the villains. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I am secretly an evil person, it does mean that there is a piece of humanity in that character. A fragment of a soul that the reader should, hopefully feel.

Timelines For Writing

Timelines For Writing

More than once I have seen authors talking about what their timeframe for writing their novel should be, and some people have struggled with not quite understanding how long the writing, editing, and publishing process can take. I think NaNoWriMo has something to do with this.

I have a close friend, Randall ‘jay’ Andrews, who runs a writing boot camp where you go from idea to novel in three months including editing time. Now, during that boot camp you write 1,000 words a day every day without exception other than weekends. It is an intensive course, and I will admit that I struggled to keep up with it because I had other things in my life I had to focus on (clients, books I was preparing for publishing, etc.). It is, however, about the shortest length of time I’ve ever seen to have a book from idea to polished form. Mr. Andrews has also been in the writing business over 40 years and writes 1,000 words a day every day without fail. I’ve seen him do it from a hospital bed where he had to fight with the doctors and nurses to let him have his laptop long enough to do it.

Most of us are not Mr. Andrews.

The manuscript I have been working on since NaNoWriMo 2014 is in the final stages of self-editing. Granted, I have a lot more writing to do than most people since it’s my vocation, so my personal projects often languish. But I am about a year-and-a-half into this manuscript, and it is still needing some polish before I send it out to my publisher. I did write 50,000 words of it during NaNoWriMo, but the novel demanded several rewrites before it finished, and I am going through it again because I stumbled my way through world creation and needed to fix continuity errors.

And I do this for a living.

There are writers out there who can hammer out a manuscript in a month. I’ve seen Mr. Andrews write 50,000 words in an evening on his birthday for several years straight. It’s impressive to watch. However, I cannot even begin to pretend to have that level of skill. Of course, I have five years, professionally, to his forty.

Manuscripts take time to write, and rushing through that process at breakneck speed will, for most of us, damage the integrity of the work. The 50,000 words I wrote during NaNoWriMo ended up being reworked so much I almost might as well not have written them. I don’t regret the experience, and I still reserve November as my personal writing month because I desperately need the retreat, but it didn’t produce a workable novel for me.

Whether it takes a month or five months or ten months or a year or two years, so long as you are making forward progress there is no “right” timeline. After all, how long did Harper Lee (RIP) wait between books? Just make forward progress on your novel and work on it and give yourself patience.

Raise Your Voice

Voice is something that I’ve heard a lot of controversy about in the writing world. It’s something that differentiates you from everyone else: how you speak, how you write, your characters, your world, your ideas. What it isn’t is grammatically related.

When I’m editing a manuscript one of the most frequent complaints I hear is “You’re changing my voice!” The truth is that unless I rewrite the manuscript or pour literary bleach all over it (imagine me cackling evilly if it helps!) I can’t really destroy your “voice”. Your manuscript is your voice and nothing I would change, as an editor, would hurt it.

Voice is your unique, literary fingerprint. Cleaning up your grammar, even adding a few words or phrases, and putting some errant bits together will not damage your almighty “voice”.

There has been an unfortunate trend that I have noticed, also, where authors confuse “voice” with ego. Everything in their work is their “voice” and changing anything immediately becomes an affront to their almighty “voice”. I see this more often with the students (victims) of literary workshops and writing degrees. The emphasis on “voice” there is outrageous and honestly it’s more than is necessary. Much like their emphasis on hating “cliches” but that’s another discussion for another time.

About.com defines “voice” as the following:

Definition: Voice has two meanings as it concerns creative writers:

  • Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or
  • Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

Citation

Those things are difficult for an editor to change by making a few word changes, fixing grammar, and even adding in a whole sentence (God forbid!). Trust me. It’s my job to know these things and changing an author’s “voice” is more difficult than you might think. Keep in mind that your voice is more than simply how you string sentences together – your voice is in the heart of your plot, in the lives of your characters, in the soul of the novel itself. Unless you have an editor that wants to do to your novel what the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie did to the television series (yeah, I went there) then you don’t have anything to be afraid of. I promise.

It’s Work, Not Disney

Many authors come against a wall, eventually, when they start working to get published. This wall is called the “oh my God, this is actually work?” wall. Okay, well maybe it isn’t the official title, I’m sure I’ll think of something snappy later.

Most writers think about how great it would be to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling (I know I have) but very few of them actually consider just how much real, grueling work it is to get there. I don’t just mean learning how to write and sprucing up your grammar, I mean rewriting your story so many times you never, ever, want to see it again when it’s finished.

“But it suuucks!” Yes. Yes it does. Unfortunately, writing isn’t a trip to Disney land. While it’s a labor of love, or even a hobby, it’s still a kind of work. You can’t just set it like a cruise missile and assume that once you type “the end” and save your document that the process will be over. Even after your work has been published, it’s still not over (you need to drum up readers, for a start).

Many authors I encounter sum up things in a simple “that’s too much work”. I have had people send me “queries” that are simply their manuscript attached to a blank email and when I responded, asking that they follow the query process, they said, succinctly, “It’s too much work. I can’t be bothered.” If that’s the attitude that is common, then I’m sad to tell you that you’ll never be published outside very small lit. journals or maybe Publish America.

The reality is that the hard part comes after you type “the end” and close the document. Why? Because you have to edit it. And editing, my friends, is miserable. Before anyone else (except maybe a few trusted individuals) even see your work, you should be proofreading it for grammar mistakes and other such problems. However, it won’t be until you have someone reading it that is able to see your flaws (“this plot has a hole the size of Canada!”, “why do you kill BobJoe off in chapter two and have him come back in chapter seven?”) and then, what’s worse, is that you have to go in and correct them.

Once that’s all been done, and you have a publisher say “hell yes” to your manuscript, you have to go through yet another round of editing, this round almost more grueling than the last because this editor knows what they’re talking about. Theoretically. If you’ve got friends that are professional editors and willing to assist you then that’s grand and dandy, you might escape the worst of this “round two” because you’ll have caught these errors ahead of time. There is, of course, also the possibility of hiring a freelance editor (like yours truly) to do work on your manuscript and help you out in this phase, too. But most writers don’t go that route and instead have their friends try and weed out the worst of the mistakes.

The unfortunate truth is that being an author is like any other job, in some respects. You have certain duties, you have certain responsibilities and if you don’t maintain a degree of professionalism and quality in what you’re turning out, you will be “fired”. Of course “fired”  has different forms, like being dropped from a publisher or never being published to begin with. It’s also not a very high-paying job unless you’re Dean Koontz (don’t we all wish we were!) so expect long, grueling hours for a very small paycheck.

But with all this said, if writing is your passion, then the work isn’t as bad. It’s there, it’s rough, but it’s worthwhile the moment you get the “We are interested in publishing your work” letter from a publisher (a real publisher…) and see your name on a front cover. Worth. Every. Second.

What Editing Is Like

I apologize again for missing my mark last week – I’ve recently started a new job and I was travelling still. I’m home and so my blog should be back to your regularly scheduled insanity.

Editing is a strange and intimidating thing for most authors – even if you’ve worked with peers and had friends look at your manuscript and critique it. Sending your work to a professional editor is like sending your kid off to college. You don’t know how well they’re going to do, if they’re going to pass at all, and if all the time and energy you’ve put into them are now being put to the test by people that could either put them out into the world as polished, professional adults or send them home scuffing their shoes and unable to pay the rent.

The first thing you need to do is trust your editor. Does that mean never second-guess them or do your own research? Absolutely not. If you have questions, by all means ask them, look them up, or discuss them with your editor. But your editor usually knows best so trust them – they got into their position (if your publisher is reputable) because they know what they’re doing and have the experience, knowledge, and drive to help guide you through the process.

Okay, with that out of the way, the process – at least the way I run things, which isn’t how all editors do it – starts with me reading the whole manuscript, top to bottom. After that, I make notes about what I’d like to address and start at the beginning. However, this isn’t about my process, really, it’s about the author.

The author sends their manuscript in and waits a while (this is after they’re approved with us wanting to publish the work), sometimes up to a couple weeks. The waiting is probably pretty miserable but unfortunately it can’t be avoided; we’re a small company and don’t have enough employees to have a quick turnaround on everything. Then they get an email with the first few chapters edited (usually the first two or three) and notes about their manuscript that should be looked at (spacing, formatting, etc.) and suggestions on how to fix these problems.

They then work on the edits and (hopefully within two weeks) send them back. The process repeats itself until the book is finished. The first edits are a bunch of red lines, comments, and notes, telling them to strike this, fix that comma, add or remove this word, maybe “show, don’t tell” (I say that a lot) and other suggestions for change.

The only things I am absolutely adamant on and won’t budge about tend to be grammatical ones. I don’t let those go. But anything else? I’m willing to talk about just about anything else and help the author work their way around problems they might have in their writing but grammar I stick on.

Most everything else? Just basically sending the manuscript back and forth until both of us are happy. Also, sending cover art, contracts, and other notes back and forth between us and generally trying to build a rapport with the author – if I can work with them to make their manuscript the best it can then everyone is hopefully a positive part of the process.

I can’t speak for all editors and all policies and the way everyone else does it, but that’s what you’re facing when I work with you and it’s about what I’d expect is the case with most editors. I tell you this because that’s all that editing is. You don’t need to be scared or nervous of it – I know a lot of writers are. I’ve heard everything from “You don’t understand my work!” to “You’re trying to steal my story, aren’t you!?” and the truth is that neither of those is the case. Editing and editors aren’t your enemy, and the process isn’t as scary as many people might think it is.

The one thing I can tell you is that it’s work. Hard work. It’s absolutely not a walk in the park and certainly isn’t easy. But it’s not something to be afraid of – we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty, right?