Hi everyone, and firstly I’m so sorry for my absence! I’ve just started by business degree while continuing to work full time and play in a band, so things have been beyond frantic. Still, I’ve had a great response to my last editing checklist posts so I hope you’ll forgive me! If you haven’t seen the installments on showing instead of telling, structure or point of view, please check them out. And in the meantime I present to you: Characterisation (yes it’s spelled the English way and I’m sticking to it). Enjoy!
The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Characterisation
1. Check that your characters react realistically, in both mood and actions, to big events. It can be particularly useful to draw your plot from the antagonist’s perceptive, since they usually drive the action. Would they really overlook such a fatal flaw in their diabolical plan?.
2. It’s also useful to examine your main character’s (and supporting characters’) personality at the beginning and the end of the novel. Has your protagonist grown or changed from their experiences? If they haven’t, check that they’ve been central to your plot all along – all the ‘good stuff’ may have been happening to your supporting characters, or your MC may not have been reacting fully to the actions of the antagonist.
3. I already listed this in showing instead of telling, but I realise now it’s even more relevant here: Make sure your beats are original, and try and build a character’s personality rather than just their mood at the time. e.g. A character biting their nails will show they’re anxious, but it’s a cliché. What other nervous traits would build that character? For example if they are a writer, their nervous tick could be to compulsively tap their pen against their desk.
4. While on that subject, look for any instances where you tell something about a character (beware of telling their emotions as well as their personality), and let them instead define themselves by their actions.
5. You can build a character’s personality by giving their views on the world/their setting and so on. This can be particularly useful when introducing both a new character in a new setting, as it reduces the need for lengthy descriptions of both.
6. Also, does each character have a good and bad side? (It’s ok for your protagonist to be somewhat annoying, or for your antagonist to volunteer at the local soup kitchen!)
7. Do you have two characters fulfilling the same role? Can they be combined? If the overlapping characters had slightly different personalities, brainstorm the combined character to make sure their actions are consistent.
8. Be careful characters aren’t describing themselves just to give information to the reader. Common traps include noticing their own hair or eye colour – why would they even mention it, if they’ve had it all their lives?
9. Check for lengthy descriptions and narrative summary when introducing your characters. If you find any, cut it back to building a quick image and drop other details in later. A caveat: Whenever you are using brief, introductory descriptions like this, make sure you’re not just sticking to eye colour, hair colour etc. Describe what stands out.
10. Do the relationships between your characters develop as the story goes along? (Don’t forget, develop can mean worsen).
11. Does each character have their own x-factor? (And no, being the chosen one doesn’t count). Look out for stereotype characters. If you find one, Google the many character questionnaires out there and start interviewing your creations until they reveal the inner traits which actually make them stand out in their own right.
12. Have I missed something? Let me know!