Character Possimpibilities


Wait for it.

S and I are still at Camp NaNo, and we’re moving right along.  I finished my book, Written in Sand, and I’m still working on revisions of it.  S is working on her fanfic, and last night I helped her do some of the typing.  (If you’ve forgotten, S always hand writes the first drafts of her stories, so there’s always lots of frantic typing to do in NaNo months.)

I’ve talked before about my revision process, but this seems like as good a time as any to mention what I’m doing this time around.  I started by just rereading the whole thing, straight through.  This helps me see any gaping plot holes and judge the general tone and pacing of the story.  For instance, I decided that there needed to be a bit more tension before the big third act showdown, so I added some lines, and changed some lines around, so that the heroes were more worried about the villainess than they had been before.  Previously, they had been a bit too calm about the fact that she had successfully evaded them.  Now I’ve tried to make them seem a bit more anxious about where she’s gone and what she might be doing.  And I have them spending a bit more time trying to come up with a plan to beat her.

Now I’m working through the second read-through.  This is the one I do by character.  And I do this by alternating between the beginning and the end, working toward the middle.  So, to use a simple example, let’s say Bob is a POV character in a 20-chapter novel, and his chapters are all the even-numbered ones.  I would start reading at chapter 20, then go read chapter 2, then chapter 18, then chapter 4, and so on, ending at chapter 10, right in the middle.  I find this is really helpful for seeing character development and character arcs.

One of the main things I look at as I do this is whether a character acts believably.  And by that I don’t mean whether a character does the smart thing, or makes the best possible choices.  I certainly don’t mean that the character does what I would do in his situation.  What I mean is that the character should do something that seems in keeping with what we know about him as a character.  What matters isn’t the vast range of possible and impossible (or possimpible) choices he could make.  What matters is what he might actually do, given the sort of person he is.

This is something S has been thinking about lately, thanks to the third and last season of one of our favorite shows.  Perhaps S might write more on the subject here later, but I’ll just give a brief overview.  There has been, apparently, some controversy among fans of the show concerning how one of the main characters ended up in the last few episodes.  Part of the problem seems to be that some people think this character had more options in her life than she really had.

Yes, it’s true that there are all sorts of things that a woman in that particular time period could have done.  But that’s not the important question—the important question is what that particular character would have done in the circumstances in which she finds herself.  To use a real-life example, if S ever lost her job as a Librarian, she could, theoretically, become a wedding planner.  I mean, there’s nothing stopping her from doing it.  Other than the fact that she would absolutely hate that job, of course.

So that’s the sort of thing I’m looking out for in my own writing now.  I want to make sure that my characters’ choices aren’t just possimpible, but actually probable.



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