Divas on Writing: Keep it Consistent – Characters
This week, I’m continuing my series on keeping things consistent during the editing process. As I stated earlier, it’s easy for things to get way out of order after a big edit. If you are following up a major edit with nothing more than a proofread, it is imperative that you know how to keep things straight. Remember, proofreads do not cover substantive consistency, so it is up to you to avoid causing problems, especially when rewriting or making major revisions.
This time I am going to discuss how to keep certain aspects of your characterization consistent. Generally the problems you will come across when adding or revising characterization involve keeping the voice consistent, the physical characteristics the same, and the character relationships the same as they were.
The process of editing and revising is multilayered and it can take quite a long time. Usually months. And while you may know the ins and outs of your story, sometimes it can be hard to keep the little details clear. It’s understandable if things become a little blurred. If your editor tells you that you need to add more scenes or you need to flesh that character out more or you just generally need to expand your scenes, it’s going to mean dealing with characters—a lot. That’s no simple task when you don’t remember your characters’ relationships or hair color. And a simple read through of the surrounding text that you are adding to isn’t going to properly refresh your memory.
So what’s an author to do?
The solution is quite a basic one—and what’s more it’s something that you should have done before you sat down to write your story.
You can save yourself a lot of problems by creating a whiteboard that you use to keep track of the important aspects of your story: characters, relationships, outline, story and chapter synopses, detailed plot elements, themes, pre-written scenes (if you write things out of order), and your research. Yes, it’s a bit of work to create, but its usefulness makes it worth it. Whiteboards are a convenient place to put the “guts” of your story. They help you organize your thoughts, work out your ideas, and keep the creative chaos orderly. They are beneficial when you get stuck in your story or need a quick reminder about an important detail.
There are a couple of programs out there that are good for this process. I prefer to use OneNote, but Scrivener is also a good option.
Character cards are one of the key elements of a story whiteboard. You can adjust the character cards as you see fit, to be minimally or extremely detailed or something in between. Some authors like to add a visual element, such as a picture of someone you are basing the character on. At the very least, you should list the following on your character cards.
- Name (including family name and nicknames—if certain characters use specific nicknames, note the characters who use those nicknames)
- Physical Description (age, sex, height, weight, eye color, hair color, skin color, nationality, etc.)
- Emotional Characteristics (such as: confidence, arrogance, pride, fearfulness, etc.)
- Character Traits (such as: messiness, perfectionism, speed demon, forgetfulness, excuse maker, favorite words, contraction usage, etc.)
- Physical Characteristics (including accents, lisps, physical limitations, and physical tendencies such as: blushing, nail biting, shrugging, the ability to raise one eye brow, etc.)
- Cosmetic Characteristics (including glasses, contacts, prosthetic limbs, garish makeup, permed hair, wigs, wild nail polish colors, multiple piercings, tattoos, etc.)
- Fashion Characteristics (including clothing style, mismatched clothing, shoe style, standout clothing choices, etc.)
- Relationships to Other Characters
- Type of Character (such as: protagonist, secondary character, antagonist, etc.)
Extras to add may include:
- Special Abilities
- Psychic Wound
- Back Story
- Character’s Purpose
- Character’s Journey
This information will not only be helpful as you write your story, it will also be helpful to your editor, if you want to share it, and it will be especially helpful to you as you revise. Just make sure you update your whiteboard throughout the revision process so it’s up-to-date.
Before you begin to revise your story, especially in a substantive way, I strongly recommend that you first sit down and read (or listen to) your story and your notes. The fresher the story is in your mind, the less likely you are to make additions that alter the tone, story line, or the characterizations. During the revision process, it is important to keep your character cards close and to refer to them often. The last thing you want to do is suddenly change the antagonist’s hair color, the busboy’s height, or give your protagonist freckles.
Next time, we’ll talk about keeping your character’s actions and positions in a scene consistent.
Now back to writing. 🙂