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Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's All About Style!

I keep my chat window open some days while I edit. My friends and I will word race, or throw sentences at each other to edit. And that led to an interesting conversation over the weekend.

Beating the life out of chapter 25 my friend wrote me: What does a guy notice when he walks into a room? Would he notice the colors?


First off, I just don't have the Y-chromosome. I have two brothers, a husband, and a son on the way but that doesn't make me an expert on men.

Second, it all depends on the situation.

My friend is a photographer by trade (although give it five years and she'll be on the NYT bestseller list - she's awesome!) and we've noticed in our conversations and beta-reading for each other that we notice different things.

She'll be fascinated by a change of light or a texture, and I tend to be almost too clinical in my descriptions. Lots of facts, little else.

So what would her MMC notice when he walks into a room? I could think of several situations:
- The character is an interior decorator and will comment on the colors
- The room is painted so wildly that anyone would notice
- The character is sneaking into the room and looking for something and will notice furnishings
- The character is a profiler and is looking at the room's personality
- The character is getting shot at and won't care about the room as long as there isn't blood spattered everywhere

It's all a matter of style, you see. What one person or character will notice isn't what another will. And it isn't what the person will notice if the situation is changed. Which leads to Editing For Style.

*cue soundtrack*


Step 1: Know the Character

Know which point of view the scene is from and know the character well enough to write the POV effectively. If you can't do that either scrap that POV in it's entirety or do some character work and beat the secrets out of your reluctant witness to the scene.

Step 2: Know the Mood
How your character reacts to any setting is dependent on their state of mind. One of the worst (in my opinion) mistakes, and one of the most teeth-gratingly obvious is when the author steps in and writes from their mood and setting rather than the character's.

A scene that makes an Evil Author bounce in their seat with joy (come on, you know you've done it) isn't so wonderful from your victim's POV. Just keep that in mind, and don't intrude.

Make the text fit the mood of your character. You can share your joyful squeals with your writing group.

"Hey, guys! Guess which characters I killed today!!!"

Step 3: Don't Lose the Character's Voice to Editing
Remember a few weeks back when we talked about VOICE? Well, it comes up here too.

One of the easiest mistakes to make in editing is to erase every minor flaw in your work. Not typos (those are a major flaw) but choices in diction and grammar that the writing books say are a No Go.

Take that advice with a grain of salt.

If you have a character that has a strange accent, or a differnt rythm of speech you don't want to lose that by making the speech flawless. You lose the character. And then, you'll cry.

It's okay to break the rules every once and awhile.

What advice do you have for keeping your characters in character during editing?


  1. All good stuff, here - thanks.

    That is why my new WIP starts out so slow...every thing my characters see, do, say tell something about them. When I am just starting a project and still "figuring out" these people, I have to give a whole lot more thought to what I write.

    Later, once I know them, it's easier to know what they would say or do.

  2. And that's why rough drafts were created :o)

  3. Good post. I'm rewriting the first chapters of my manuscript because I realized the action was all there, but my characters weren't. I didn't know them yet, and they were flat on the page. Now I can bring them to life.

  4. Very nice. :) My best advice is to just let the characters take over and do the writing. It makes things so much easier. :)