Finding Voice, Pt. 2 ~
First drafts are generally about getting ideas out and letting your muse take you down various garden paths. Even if you’re a planner, like me, and you have a fairly clear idea of what should be happening and to whom, new ideas crop up when you’re writing. The first full read through you do of your book after draft one should be to look for the stuff that’s not consistent with the main threads woven into your story. Besides nailing down wandering plots (ideas that don’t go anywhere or link up/get resolved by the end) you need to analyze what is going on with your characters.
It is expected that your characters will evolve, learn, and grow (or regress but change should be evident) along the way. What you need to look for are not just obvious discrepancies in outer appearance but alterations in thoughts, speech patterns and deeds. Some of these changes will be integral to your story and should be there, but others are those wandering ideas that you need to make sure fit with the final vision for your characters. This also goes for looking for what’s missing. In one of my books the main character’s best friend was a terrible flirt. The one time I finally show her with a shirtless guy, she doesn’t say or do anything – and that’s not like her. In fact, there was absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t think, say or imply something sexual in that situation. This was a consistent characteristic I missed an opportunity to expand on. By having nothing there, I was sending a message I didn’t intend.
Do the physical attributes of my character remain the same throughout the story?
Where do the physical attributes change or deviate?
Does this make sense with the development of my character or is it a wandering that needs to be fixed?
Are the characters speech patterns consistent?
If they do change, why? and does it add to the understanding of the story or hurt the reality of the character?
Are his/her mannerisms true to character?
If there’s an attitude shift, is it supposed to be there to give more dimension to the character or is only confusing and muddying up a reader’s understanding of this person?
Are my characters too complex? Are there too many facets to who they are that the reader will get lost and overwhelmed?
Is the character doing what is expected of them?
If deviation of established tendencies happens is it on purpose or by accident? Is it a natural progression that the reader will accept or is it an abrupt difference that has no obvious explanation?
When I deviate from what I’ve shown the reader who this character is, are reasons, clues or circumstances given to help the reader understand this change?
Is the change in character consistency integral to the plot or development of this character? If not, eliminate it.
The thing about voice, when it comes to characters, is that anything we ask them to do or say or think beyond the confines of who we’ve established them to be will send off alarm bells to readers – when something about a known character changes we need to show readers that this really wasn’t unexpected, based on all the information that came before or through revelations that are yet to come. If you change your character’s hair colour to purple from black just because you like that better, then consider having her hair purple from the start. If the colour changes because of magic or some alteration to her elemental force – then that makes sense to the furthering of the plot and you need to keep it. It’s not always easy to see the little (or big) inconsistencies when it comes to our characters and often a trusted reader can be an invaluable resource when helping you edit for this kind of consistency.
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