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Monday, April 11, 2011

Back on the Chain Gang

I'm returning to JANE DOE to edit the first draft of the full manuscript (and the fifth draft of the partial). I'm making another editing worksheet.

Among the things I'm adding are one sentence plot descriptions that will help with indexing and writing the synopsis, and a chart for symbolism.

Something that struck me as I worked on the closing chapters is that it takes a few drafts for my characters to sound different, but they all have their own world views.

Samantha thinks in terms of colors and scents. Her vocabulary and POV is peppered with college slang, phases of the moon, and colors.

MacKenzie always knows the make and model of every car, and everything comes back to military references and disappointment. His POV is filled with harder slang and comparisons to his old life.

Robert Marrins thinks in terms of the Good Ol' Days. He uses southern slang when he speaks, tells stories, and always brings up the phrase, "When I was young."

It's a way for the characters to verbally mark their territory. They are showing personality, preference, and interest just in the vocabulary they use.

And now that's I'm going back to edit I realize I need them to visually mark their territory as well. It's easy to slip into the habit of having characters sound different without ever bringing that into the scene and tying it to the world I've built. My early drafts tend to be just talking heads, scenery is something I have to add later.

In this edit I'm looking for ways to bring out the personalities of the characters using visual cues. There should be some symbolism here, but even more I want personality to come out.

Right now Sam's house is pretty empty, she rents one room and has use of the kitchen. Her room has lace, antiques, pictures of family, and her work gear. To me it shows a quiet romantic who is career oriented at the moment.

Mac's house is badly lit, dark, and unkempt. He doesn't care about much of anything, and cleaning house isn't on the top of any list.

Robert Marrins is a major character, but I have no clue about how to visually mark his territory. He's an older man, the chief agent at the bureau, he answers to no one, and he misses the past. A divorcee who lives alone Marrins' house is never shown, but there are several scenes in his office and I can't for the life of me imagine what he decorates with.

Help me out here, how do your characters visually mark territory? What sort of description to expect from a bitter old man?


  1. First thing that popped into my head? He's divorced and he misses the "good ole days"- pics of his kids (if he has any) when they were still little. Nothing of the way things are currently. If he doesn't have kids, but he had a dog when he was in college, a picture of that. Anything that captures those times he misses so desperately.

    I don't know the character as intimately as you so I know these suggestions might be coming off as very cliche. But you know your character and you know how to make the cliche into something fresh and apropos of your character.

  2. I could see him having an old American flag or map. The book is set in a world where all of North America is united into one country and he misses being a American in the USA sense, rather than an American as in North American.

    No kids. And I don't know if he misses his wife. I think he loved her as best he could, and didn't understand why it wasn't good enough. It was a selfish love, he's a selfish person who notices only his own comforts. He never admits he's wrong. He might have been borderline abusive as a husband, and I know he doesn't approve of women in the workforce.

    That actually helps a lot!

    Any other suggestions?

  3. Yay! Glad it helped some. I think the American flag or map could be incredibly poignant. Especially if it's soon enough after the unification of the continent that he remembers and was alive when North America was three separate countries.

    The other thing that comes to mind that's really more of an extension/deepening of the flag idea is a flag in a display case with someone's medals. I'm thinking of those triangular cases that sit on a rectangle display base that you use to display a flag that was draped over a military casket. Play on heroism and the old days. Dunno.

    The earliest merits he ever earned, maybe those are merits earned before the unification of the continent and that's why he chooses them over more recent merits.

  4. That would put him in perfect conflict with Samantha! Fabulous ideas! Thank you, Stephanie. :o)

  5. I'd suggest at least one picture of his wife, but small and facing away from him. Perhaps on his desk but facing out. I like the flag idea. I'd imagine very simple furniture that's practical and not over-comfortable.

  6. Since he uses Southern slang, he'd probably have things around showing Southern roots. His office would have bookcases with a mix of books and knickknacks from the South. Maybe some old framed maps or items like brochures, postcards, etc. of places he's been or would like to go see. Any pictures would probably be of his childhood.

    He would most likely have his university diploma or any certification necessary for the job prominently displayed on the walls.

    A variation on the flag is an old-style globe. Maybe even a globe that is actually a decanter.