Invitation to Participate

As an editor, I have to search for ways to motivate authors to bring their characters fully to life. In the early stages of an edit I will try different tactics. On a large scale, I might suggest composing character sketches. On a granular level, I might edit one scene with a dozen prompts that say: What is the character feeling now? Authors have varying abilities to respond with anything that truly reveals character. So sometimes the editorial prism itself has to be altered in order to produce results. Here is one method that works.

Most authors understand that a unified point of view in the narration can produce greater personal depth. Simply being with a character more allows a reader to get to know them better. An author can use that principle to apportion how often a character rules the point of view in a scene. If a lead character does not control the point of view of a scene he is in, the scene can be rewritten to use his POV. If you do that for even a half dozen scenes, the reader is going to see things his way more often. 

A narrative that contains indirect quotations most likely indicates that the author is standing outside her own story. Unless your protagonist clearly has a distinctive voice, indirect quotes should be changed to dialogue. The immediacy can draw a reader to a character. The words are not cloaked any longer by the author reporting on the scene. They are given directly, the way words emerge from within all of us. As a plus, a reader can often imagine that she would say the same thing in that situation. I cannot tell you how many times a scene that seemed dead became sparked with personality after making this basic change.

Another technique is derived from the direct-dialogue principle. Words do not need to be spoken aloud to evince character. If a character has a thought that is almost exactly what he would say—“I wish that guy would go to hell”—you have penetrated inside the character’s mind. Many authors like to put these “quoted” thoughts in italic type, to set them off from the omniscient narration. The reader grasps the meaning, with the added benefit that he feels he is an insider as the action is occurring. Once an author becomes comfortable with this technique, the story can become filled with thoughts. Even better, the author can start to devise unspoken worries prior to a plot event that drive anticipation of what will happen.

Exercise: Review the text with a single goal in mind: I am going to invite the reader into the story. When you see a sentence that strikes you as bland, or too neutral, your first thought should be the lead character in the scene. Could I convey the idea through her point of view? The plot point is supposed to matter to her, not you.

“People know things and have a remarkable capacity to act in their individual immediate interests all the time.”
—Ta-Nehisi Coates

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.