Character development: continuity and story arcs

We’ve been looking at the points in the Character element of the checklist. Here are a couple more:

Continuity is maintained in characters’ appearance, habits, and vocabulary.

This is where your style sheet will come in handy. Some call it a character bible, but copyeditors usually call it a style sheet or style guide. For more on this, see How to prevent continuity errors in your book.

In addition to keeping track of physical traits, note where your characters are from and incorporate regional or intellectual differences. Continue reading

Your character needs backstory, but don’t dump it

I want to take some extra time to go into one point on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist in detail:

Personal histories are brought into the story organically

Backstory is usually a bad word among writers. But the truth is, it’s necessary—to you. Knowing your character’s history is good. What’s bad is dumping all that history in one big lump at the beginning of your novel.

This is a common new-writer error. Continue reading

Is your infodump backstory, or is it research?

Last week we talked about the kind of infodump in which the character’s full history is dropped in one big block. Often this information—or pieces of it, anyway—does belong in the story. It just needs to be winnowed down to the minimum, and it needs to be woven organically into the story.

One of the best ways to incorporate this kind of history is through dialog. Notice how Joss Whedon slips the Hulk’s backstory into just a few lines in The Avengers: Continue reading

Beware analysis paralysis when editing

When you look at it all at once, the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist can be daunting. And as writers, we tend to waver between thinking we’re literary geniuses and thinking we’re hack poseurs no one will ever take seriously.

The danger in self-editing is that you fall too severely on one side or the other. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul warns against this. Continue reading

Fiction Q&A: Concealing a character’s identity

question answer


Q: I saw what you wrote about not hiding the POV character’s identity. Isn’t there some way I can hide the villain’s identity, so the reader won’t figure out who it is until late in the story, when the hero does? Like, if he’s an evil mastermind, can I just call him “the mastermind” in the scenes where he’s the point of view character, instead of using his name?

A: No.

No one thinks of himself in the third person that way. Unless he has some kind of dissociative disorder—yikes, that’s a whole other post. Continue reading

Determine your most appropriate POV character

I’ve said that character is the most important element of fiction. Some editors disagree, and will say plot or point of view is more important. I’ve given my reasons for why I feel as I do about character. Here’s why I put viewpoint before plot on my list.

Viewpoint, or POV, is closely linked to character, regardless of which viewpoint style you choose. Viewpoint is the channel through which the reader experiences the story, so I understand why some editors put it first. But you can’t have viewpoint without character, even if the only “character” is a bodiless narrator. Continue reading

Why second person doesn’t work in fiction

Last time we talked about first versus third person in light of this item on our checklist:

The chosen grammatical person is suitable to the story and the POV characters.

I glossed over second person, in which the reader is addressed as “you,” noting only that it is Not Recommended.

One type of fiction in which second person does work is children’s fiction, especially the “choose your own adventure” book. Back in the day, this type of book would have a scene that ended with something like this: “You reach a fork in the road. Which way will you choose? If right, turn to page 63. If left, turn to page 67.” New stories of this type are put in e-book form with hyperlinks, and can be very effective, especially when the book is carefully aimed at a market that’s eager to fill the shoes of the story’s protagonist.

Second person works less well in traditional novel-length narrative fiction. Continue reading

Ensure clear point of view transitions

We’re down to the last two items in the POV section of the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist.

If using deep POV, the narrative and interior monologue reflect the personality of the POV character(s)

This goes back to avoiding generic narrator voice. The narrative in a deep POV novel should feel like you’re riding along in the character’s brain, so the narrative should feel as if he’s thinking it. Continue reading