Warning: I am a “seat of the pants” writer. I’ve tried to be otherwise, but this may just be my lot in life.
That said, the following is a look at how I polish my characters prior to submitting a manuscript to my editor.
Further warning: it’s pretty simplistic, as the real work was in developing the character while writing the story.
First, I print out a hard copy. Though some people can edit equally well on paper and computer screen, I catch more problems and inconsistencies on paper.
Next, I pull out my red pen, followed by the all-important character file which contains profiles on every character—major and minor—as they develop. Included are basic descriptions, likes and dislikes, hang ups and habits, and goals.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to develop profiles for each character and update them as the character grows into who she will become by the end of the story.
The following is what the profile for my heroine from Faking Grace looks like (cleaned up so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities):
Maizy Grace Stewart: 26 years old; 5’6”; hazel eyes; wild, heavily highlighted hair;
in moments of pure joy, laughter ends on a purr (embarrassing)
“saved” at a Christian summer camp at age 16; hasn’t pursued her faith (Cultural Christian)
general assignment reporter in Seattle before being promoted to investigative reporter (her dream), but flubbed it when she got too close to her subject and was scooped
a softy at heart, giving most people the benefit of a doubt
verbally incontinent under stress (makes her seem ditzy and suspect)
so desperate to get the job at Steeple Side that she embellishes her faith (with the help of “The Dumb Blond’s Guide to Christianity”) and lies
suffers guilt (lies don’t come naturally, so tracks lies to keep her story straight)
when given the chance to return to investigative reporting by investigating Steeple Side, the need to redeem herself, feelings of inadequacy, and dismal financial situation make her vulnerable to peer pressure
as she gets close to her Christian co-workers, she struggles with her conscience and growing faith
quietly chants “There’s always a story” borrowed from her mentor to keep from abandoning the assignment and her dream
in the end, goal shifts from wanting a job to pay the bills to wanting a real faith
Maizy Grace’s profile started out as a couple of lines. As I got to know her, I noted her developing character in the profile and bolded those characteristics that I felt were most important to highlight throughout the story.
Thus, when it was time to polish, I was armed. Pen in hand, I read through the entire manuscript, regularly referring to my profiles to be certain each character was consistent and growth was believable.
For instance, at the beginning of the story, Maizy’s verbal incontinence under stress is evident. In later scenes, I found places where I had neglected to show this, and so I reinforced this characteristic by adding snips of dialogue. A fairly easy fix.
So that’s how I polish my characters for the big meeting with the editor. See, I told you it was simplistic.
Tamara Leigh is the best-selling author of Splitting Harriet, Perfecting Kate and Stealing Adda. Her first seven novels earned awards and became national bestsellers, but Tamara was dissatisfied that the stories were not God-honoring. In 2003, she determined to write books that more directly represented her faith. Tamara and her husband, David, live with their two sons in Tennessee.