How My Characters Help Me Self-Edit

“Hey! I would never say something like that! Don’t you know me by now? I’m the main character in your story.”

“Oops! I did it again. Sorry,” I say. “You’re absolutely right. That was out of character for you. Thanks for reminding me.”

At times I can almost picture my characters standing with arms crossed, scowling at me and saying, “Where did you put my character description list? Forget to post it next to the computer AGAIN? You need to get to know me better if I’m going to be in your book. You’re leaving all the good stuff about me, OUT!”

Editing so that I stay true to the character descriptions I’ve created is a must, but sometimes I slip up. When I do, my characters are quick to remind me that I’ve gone astray. Like my character said, I’ve got a list, and getting to know that list is what makes them “real.” If I pay close attention as I self-edit, I’ll stay on target.

Here are a only a few of the things my list includes:

  • A physical description
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Likes and dislikes (foods, sports, books, etc.)
  • Favorite expressions
  • Special talents
  • Habits or quirks
  • Imperfections
  • Most treasured possessions
  • Serious or funny
  • Leader or follower
  • Daring or cautious
  • Etc., etc., etc.,

After reading through several chapters of a manuscript I’m working on, I was aghast when I realized that my character who loves to crack jokes even in tense moments—DIDN’T!

If my character is one to take a leadership role in scary or dangerous situations, but instead becomes the passive follower, then it’s time for a rewrite. Without it my character will refuse to go on!

If my character keeps a messy room and is mighty proud of it, why would I have him hang his favorite hat carefully on a peg, or line his shoes up at the end of his bed like Mr. Monk, the obsessive compulsive detective? My character description reminds me that he throws all of his hats (even the favored one) in a corner. Another corner is for his pile of shoes! If he’s known to be messy from the start, I can’t portray him as a neat freak in one or more of my chapters.

The characters we create are our friends. If we don’t continue to get to know them, we’ll forget what they’re really like. So, occasionally sit on the grass under a tree with your characters. Drink lemonade together. Talk and laugh, and ask them everything you can think of. Have a great time getting to know your friends (then hurry back inside the house and write it all down on your list!)

Mary was like a little lamb,
her character—meek and mild,
but when I didn’t check my list,
I wrote her loud and wild!

Make your characters and your readers happy. Stay true to your list and you’ll stay true to your characters (who will always help you self-edit.)

Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford


6 responses to “How My Characters Help Me Self-Edit

  1. gloriastockstill

    Sherri, great list! There is soooo much to remember when writing. It is sometimes overwhelming. Thanks for a great list to help us keep on track.


  2. I really like this list, Sherri, and I’m keeping a copy. I know it will be helpful. Marge

  3. Shirley Shibley

    Great, Sherri! I wrote about characters in my blog for next week, but you have been precise in learning about our characters and checking them in editing. Thanks for the good tips.


  4. Valerie Koukal

    Hi Sherri. I love your insights about character development! Wow! It just goes to show you have to have a powerful imagination to be a writer and then to organize all that creativity into a cohesive story!! Kudos to all you writers who manage to stay focused and purposeful. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sherri, I am making a copy of your character list for future reference. Excellent!

  6. Thanks for this helpful list, Sherri! From an illustrator’s perspective this is also a good thing to remember. Otherwise all the characters start looking the same!

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