Snooping on my own characters

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I’ve been spending a day or two re-reading my first draft with the sole task of making notes on my characters like a detective. Specifically: what is revealed and when about each one. It’s been extremely eye-opening! Of course I know a whole load about all of them but until now I had no clear idea of what actually ended up in the draft.

In practical terms, I had a Google Doc with each character’s name as a heading (with a Table of Contents up top for ease of jumping around…) and then I added bullet points underneath for every scene where there is something factual or descriptive revealed about a person (appearance, lifestyle, backstory). I’m not sketching out character development here – it’s all about sleuthing, trying to piece together who this person is from the clues that are given.

It’s immediately shown up my missed opportunities – a scene where a character appears and we learn nothing new about them at all (other than their development or reactions in that scene). It also showed up where I have left some key descriptors or back story way too late. Mistakes too -things I decided to change in one place but forgot to pick up on somewhere else.

So there’s plenty to focus on when I revise my scenes. I shall be trying to add more detail – small but telling – so every appearance by a character is used to flesh them out.I’m not planning on going in too heavy – my preference or style is to leave room for the reader to use their imagination rather than spell out every detail of appearance. I also hope to manipulate the details so that initial appearances may start to change or shift as the story goes on. I’ve also got to think about point of view – what would be noticed will be filtered by that of course. And then there’s character development – but that’s a whole other re-read of the draft I think!

I’m pretty happy with things so far but I can see how it can be a whole lot better! Which is kind of a good place to be…

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