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Revising Characters

This revision layer does not require you to cut all descriptions of clothes, hair, and accoutrements. Rather, it asks you to take a fresh look at your descriptions and decide if they are meaningful and powerful rather than bland and boring.

The best way to do that is to look at each character individually and each instance in which you have described them.

1. Save a copy of your draft as “Character Description (insert character Name)” and delete everything but the sections that deal with that character (keeping chapter references). It is critical that you revise at this level for your protagonist, antagonist, love interest. If you want to be thorough, do it for your secondary characters as well. Walk-ons deserve a brief look, but not necessarily a file.

If you prefer, you can peruse a printed version of your manuscript and highlight or circle the descriptions of each character separately. You could mark them with different colored ink or stick-on tabs. 

The important part is that you start at the beginning of the story and read through that character looking for continuity mistakes, character definition, and consistency.

2. Have you described the character as he enters the story?

3. Have other characters described this character?

4. Are your descriptions meaningful and original or full of clichés and weak adjectives? Have you repeated the same descriptive information over and over?

5. Are there instances of dissonance or change?

6. Do words and actions illustrate the character? Do they play against type? Are you promoting stereotypes?

7. Is your point of view character’s description of someone accurate or inaccurate due to his personality, past history, or  current situation? Does his opinion change?

8. Have you used clichés or purple prose?

9. Have you made changes in one area and forgotten to change them in the rest (hair and eye color, history, clothing choices).

10. Have you changed their name? Make certain it is changed everywhere! Make certain it is spelled the same everywhere.

11. Have you given them so many nicknames, terms of endearment, or shortened names that it becomes confusing?

It helps to have a character profile nearby when revising for each character listing their visual appearance, quirks, speech style, personal style etc.

You can create your own profiles or utilize the ones provided in Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook (which also include personality traits).

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