Charlie2Inspiration has bitten you hard! You have a grand idea for a novel…maybe it involves a guy, let’s name him Charlie McAllister. Charlie finds himself waking up in the middle of a desert with no idea where he is, or how he got there, but he’s quick to notice his entire left arm and shoulder are throbbing in pain from a freshly inked tattoo—elaborately applied and looking like a fierce dragon. Some of the scales of the dragon have names written in an ancient language on them.

 

Yikes! Who is this guy? What has he done? Is he the good guy or the bad guy?

If, at this point, you feel a bit stuck, simply run a background check on Charlie to evaluate his potential to be the protagonist or antagonist in your novel. Yes, I do realize a background check is usually used by employers before hiring someone to discover facts about his/her employment references, character, gaps in employment history, identity and address verification, credit history, and probably one of the most important areas of a background check…the criminal history report. Also of interest might be a person’s driving record, litigation record, citizenship, and military history.

Character building can be a tricky thing. If handled as though Charlie is a real person, then the pieces will fall together quite easily. Pretend you are about to hire Charlie for a position in your company, called Prime, which writes computer code…secret code, for the US military. No way would he be hired on the spot.

So, Charlie got a background check that is revealing. Hum…maybe he knows it will be and doesn’t care for some reason because this is all part of his plan. Would you hire him?

Here’s some of the information CEO of Prime, Ethan Cromwell, has to ponder about…

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*The STATE BY STATE criminal background check turned up a criminal history in four states: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Offenses included Driving Under the Influence-DUI’s 3X, Aggravated Assault 2X, Driving With Suspended or Revoked License, and Disorderly Conduct.

*Educational background checked out with a Graduate Degree in Computer Science earned from Michigan State University in 1990. Military service in Marines from 1993-2005 ended with a dishonorable discharge, no other details provided.

As you can see Charlie’s life has been anything but ordinary, especially since the background check also brought to light he was buried in debt for over six years with four credit cards, a car loan, and a hefty mortgage. Then within a four month period, that debt was paid in full. Where did he get the money to pay off everything?

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Looking at the details about Charlie make shaping him into a memorable character much easier now because motivation for some of his actions can be instigated from his background. See! He is shaping up.

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  • He’s a loner, and does not play well with others.
  • Charlie is not an honest person.
  • Frequently, he was found where he should not have been at work…sneaky.
  • He is a dangerous man with a criminal past.
  • Is it possible he has a grudge against Prime somehow connected to his military service? Does he want to steal code to sell it?
  • According to this report, he was “Kind of a scary guy.”

Continue adding details to Charlie’s background check until he becomes so real you’ll feel like you could pick him out in a crowd. Use neighbor references, other social references, psychological workups found on him, anything to give this guy depth. It may be possible he has been undercover for years and is actually the good guy!

How do you make your characters interesting? Please feel free to share!

Good luck building strong characters, and thanks for visiting the Noracast.

Now the Work Begins: Editing a Novel

 Ignore your finished novel for at least a month to distance yourself from the manuscript. I know it’s your baby, your masterpiece, but after some time elapses, your emotions will subside a little allowing the eyes and mind of an editor to take over. Passion is required to get the story down and the editing phase, if performed with a critical eye, will result in an exciting novel you’ll be able to submit.

  • Run spell-check and grammar check. These editing buddies will not catch everything, but start with them and go from there.
  • Hit “Find” and run a search for words ending in ly. I’ve seen numerous submission guidelines asking authors to check their use of words ending in ly.

Example/No: The extremely extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Improved: The extravagantly lit ballroom was too bright.

Better: An overabundance of dazzling chandeliers sparkled with intensity almost blinding me.

  • Hit “Find” and run a search for that, because this word can be overused.

Example/No: “Isn’t it enough that I show up every Sunday to help you?”  

Better: “Isn’t it enough I show up every Sunday to help you?”

Example/No: This is the dollhouse that Steve made.

Better: This is the dollhouse Steve made.

  • Hit “Find” and run a search for just and really since these words make appearances in manuscripts too often.

Example/No: This is just a really terrible salad.

Improved: This is a terrible salad.

Better: This limp salad is too warm and reeks like it came from a garbage dump.

  • Read with a critical eye making sure you’ve used they’re, their, and there correctly.

Example/No: They’re is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary. (they’re = they are)

Yes: There is a black dog guarding the warehouse and he is scary.

Example/No: The policemen told me there motorcycles are parked out back, but their missing.

Yes: The policemen told me their motorcycles are parked out back, but they’re missing.

Do you want more of an explanation? Check out they’re, their, and there.

  • Comma Usage: Oh! Where do I begin? I think I’ll leave this one to Professor Pamela Braden of West Virginia University, Parkersburg, WV. This is a tough topic, so I’ll visit Professor Braden’s page when in doubt.
  • Sentence structure and length needs to vary so readers do not get bored. Visit Purdue Online Writing Lab for examples. Also visit Dr. Grammar for helpful tips with word usage.
  • Character Development: Is your protagonist likeable? Will your readers turn every page hoping this character sees the light, beats the odds, and/or has accomplished the task set before him, or her? This does not mean your protagonist must be perfect. Flawed characters are more believable and it’s thrilling to see a character evolve throughout a novel. Take time to create main characters that are three-dimensional. Give them a unique appearance, habits, expose their likes and dislikes, let their dreams and nightmares help shape their personality; use any means possible to let your readers into their minds. Do your readers know what motivates your protagonist? By the same token…do your readers know why the antagonist is so hateful? Has this character suffered? Check out what Susan Williams Beckhorn has to say about three-dimensional characters. Make sure to read #6, Show, Don’t Tell!
  • Check your manuscript to find any sequential mishaps with times, dates, and events. If you’re writing a science fiction novel that hops back and forth between time periods, then this is vital to the story. It’s easy to get times, dates, and events confused when passion for the story has complete control over your brain.
  • Dialogue: “How hard could this be?” Guy Hogan answers this question. Always remember, great dialogue moves the story forward. It’s especially fun to write dialogue for characters who speak with a certain amount of “attitude.” Too many dialogue tags can slow down the flow of a story, so be careful. If you take time to listen how people speak to one another, you’ll be surprised. Make notes, observe, and realize people do not constantly say the other person’s name during a conversation.
  •  Unnecessary Words: Take out words, paragraphs, and pages if they do not add to the story and move it forward. This is difficult to do, but it will tighten up the plot making the action and dialogue move along faster.
  • Head-hopping/Point-of-View Violations: I prefer to keep one point-of-view per scene, meaning I only allow one character’s point-of-view to be realized per scene. I’ve read various opinions about this topic and editors disagree, but since so many submission guidelines ask authors not to have point-of-view violations, I stay on the safe side.
  • Is there enough tension, or curiosity, at the end of every chapter to entice your readers to the next chapter? If not, add conflict, increase danger, introduce another problem, but keep your readers interested.

 These tips will get you started. If you know of a helpful tip for editing a novel, share it by leaving a comment. Thanks for visiting!