Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Attacking Characterization Head-On!

So I'm halfway through the last main section - characterization - in Manuscript Makeover.  I skimmed much of the plot/pacing/tension chapters, not because I'm so cocky as to think I've got those down pat, but all-in-all, I seem to have pretty good instincts re those elements; using the feedback I've gotten from the 5BE, I can somewhat easily reform the parts that might seem sluggish or inconsequential.

Characters, however, are a whole other ballgame, and apparently I'm not alone in feeling this way.  The book mentioned that many published authors go back and refine character in their later draft(s), so it's good to know that I'm not way off the mark in sensing that I need more work in this area.  I will discuss the specific hurdles and questions that are creeping into my head re the depth of my characters once I actually start rewriting.  For now, I just want to touch on some general points.

An earlier section of Ms. Lyon's revision book discussed the difference between viewpoint and protagonist/central plotline (i.e., you can have multiple viewpoints telling one protagonist's story, without creating protagonists out of those viewpoint narrators).  This is a key issue (potential problem) with my novel.  Currently, I would describe the structure as being parallel plotlines centered around two protagonists (whose lives cross frequently, but who have their own personal journeys, arcs, etc.)  The story is told from 6 viewpoints, 3 per storyline.  All of the viewpoint characters have their own subplots, but these, in my mind at least, advance the two main storylines in some way.

If you're thinking, "Wow that sounds convoluted!" you may well be right.  I believe that I have created a well-paced, compelling work, however, as Manuscript Makeover points out, too many subplots and weighty side characters can diminish the depth and impact of the protagonist and her storyline.  A little voice somewhere inside me is whispering that this is likely the case with my novel!  Now the question is, what to do about it ...

Ms. Lyon suggests that, where you have two protagonists, you treat one of them as the "main one," giving her 3/4ths of the book.  This is a very interesting thought - at this point, I basically give both protagonists equal page time, and then of course, I have all those side character stories ... I have to seriously revisit the structure of my book, not so much for it's ability to tell a compelling tale, but for its merits in regard to presenting rich, 3-dimensional characters.

There is obviously a lot more I can say about all this, but again, I think I will hold off on giving specifics until I am actually in the throws of re-writing.  My goal is to finish the how-to book this week, and hopefully begin my phase 2 research next week (looking over old magazines and visiting the local historical society to get a better feel for life around here in the 1920s).  I sent out an initial questionnaire to the 5BE re some of the points I mentioned in this post, and am starting to get responses, which I will incorporate into my Master Feedback List.  Then comes synthesizing the whole list into an action plan ... argh ... this is starting to sound like work! ;-)

(I'm changing the name of my "Potential Novice Writer Sin" section to something a little less draconian-sounding ...)

FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO:  Know your book and its potential weaknesses!  I think this is the absolute first step in one's revision process.  Know what you have on your hands (and this means learning the basic conventions of novel writing.)  Only then can you decide whether you want to try to break the "rules" or conform your book to fit within them.  I still don't have all the answers in that department, but I feel a bit more confident now that I understand the "risks" I might be taking with some of my choices.

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