R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Editing

Characters Count: Keeping Them Consistent

Engaging characters can make or break any story. You could have the coolest setting in the world  and a mind-blowingly awesome plot full of ups and downs, thrilling twists, and a dramatic conclusion, but they would amount to a fat load of diddly (squat optional) if your readers don’t care about your characters.

Readers Notice Inconsistencies

I just finished going through the first round of content edits and revisions on The Exile’s Violin. One of the common threads that ran through the editorial notes centered on my characters and their…character (for lack of a better word). I’d written them behaving one way earlier in the book, but by the end they were reacting to things in ways that just weren’t them. I didn’t keep my characters’ character consistent. And if my editor noticed, you can bet your ass that readers would pick up on it too.

Novel writing

For example, my main character, Jacquie, comes across as a no-nonsense type of young woman, one that may have anger issues, in the opening chapters. However as I was reading later chapters, she was doing things that were completely out of character. Trying not to cry after a setback instead of getting angry. Feeling ashamed instead of not caring what other people thought–especially when she hadn’t done anything wrong. She didn’t have that spark that made her interesting in the beginning.

Avoiding Flat Characters

All the writing advice gurus talk about making sure your characters change and grow–avoid flat, two-dimensional characters! But there’s a difference between character growth and inconsistency. You better break out your red pen and do some rewriting when you see these kinds of mistakes.

Red pen

Having a character learn to care about other people rather than just themselves, that’s growth. When two characters develop romantic feelings for one another in an organic, unforced way, that’s growth. When a character hates eggs in chapter 2 but then spends the rest of the book only ordering omelettes, that’s an error. So when Jacquie starts crying all the time (seriously it was embarrassing how many times I’d put that in there), it looked like her behavior was coming out of left field. I rewrote those sections to have her keep her original attitude. As a result, her character stayed more consistent, but still retained room for growth.

You can turn inconsistencies into genuine growth though. Using that egg example: you could add reasons into the story, plot points, dialogue, etc. that shows why that character learns to love eggs to the point where they’re eating omelettes for every meal. That would be growth.

It’s all about how you present it to the reader. You can show them a character’s behavior in one instance and say, “This is fact. This is how my character acts.” That’s all fine and dandy. But if you then show the character acting differently in a similar situation and say, “This is fact. This is how my character acts” they’ll call BS. No author wants to have their readers call them out on something like that. It’s just plain embarassing.

Starting the Revisions Process

I just got the first round of comments and suggestions back for my debut steampunk novel, The Exile’s Violin. This is super exciting and scary at the same time. On the one hand, the initial feedback I got in the email with the manuscript notes was good. The word “riveting” might have been used in the first sentence. So yes, that’s always positive.

Still I haven’t opened the marked up manuscript file yet. I’m kind of scared to do it. I mean before I read the email, I was afraid that my editor was going to read my manuscript and think, “Bleh, why did the company agree to take this mess on? This isn’t worth publishing.”

I mean that didn’t happen. And besides, if an editor really thought something was that bad, then my manuscript probably wouldn’t have been good enough to get accepted and to this point anyway. So that fear is just irrational. I know.

So why haven’t I opened the file yet? I don’t think I have “Editor-Phobia” as outlined in a guest post by Muffy Morrigan on Christine Rose’s blog. I’m not afraid that my editor is going to completely cut my voice out of the story. No, I think the thing I’m worried about the most is that I have an irrational fear of my own writing.

I don’t like the sound of my own voice on recordings. And similarly, I don’t like rereading things I’ve already written and revised on my own. And finally, despite all the advice that says to do this, I also hate reading my stories out loud. For some reason just thinking about reading things I’ve already written makes me cringe. It’s something I have to get over. If I want to keep growing as a writer, I know I’m going to have to learn to look at my works with a more critical eye.

Well if there was ever a time to toughen up and just get to it, this is it. My book is an actual thing that is being published. It will be a product people can buy and read. But if it’s going to get to that point, I got to take this first step. Who knows, it might end up being fun, and undoubtedly it’s going to make The Exile’s Violin stronger.

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