Self-edit Your Novel (Part 2)


In this multi-post series, you’ll discover techniques and technology to help you self-edit. Part 2 offers advice on scene-by-scene editing of characters.

Structure (Part 2): Characters

A story’s heartbeat emanates from characters, and their evolving lives capture readers’ attention and shape the novel’s trajectory:

  • Roles contribute to the storyline.
  • Careers often sway those roles.
  • Desires guide thoughts, choices, and actions.
  • Resistance to change hinders protagonist’s problem solving.
  • Unsolved problems create conflict and build tension. 
  • Individual and group connections affect story direction.
  • Traits and behaviors influence reactions to plot events.
  • Distinctive character voices engage readers.
  • Dialogue effects the story’s pace.

Create an Inventory of Characters

The creation of character profiles is essential to maintaining consistency within a novel and across a series.

Scrivener stores character profiles in a folder for easy retrieval. But for a series, keeping every profile in your current draft can prove cumbersome.

To solve this issue for your current draft:

For a series, maintain a master inventory in a separate Scrivener file, and set up Custom Metadata to show characters’ roles and the books in which they appear.

Give Characters Distinctive Voices

As you edit each scene, review the dialogue and inner thoughts to decide if a character’s voice fits the genre’s conventions, tropes, and styles. Then ask:

  • Do speech patterns align with character profiles and quirks?
  • Do the relationship dynamics increase conflict and tension?
  • Do the action beats and body language show emotions?
  • Does the mixture of dialogue and narrative create the right pace?

Edit Characters’ Actions and Reactions 

As you analyze each scene, determine if the right characters are present, and check to see if their actions and reactions match their profiles.

For example, did the point-of-view character or a supporting cast member:

  • Emphasize the scene problem to resolve?
  • Show the goal to resolve the problem?
  • Establish a goal that aligns with the plot’s premise?
  • Reveal stakes that compel character to achieve goal?
  • Show how inner issues hinder progress toward solving problem?
  • Convey what happens if goal not achieved?
  • Identify how goal failure affects the character?
  • Show the knowledge gained and by whom?
  • Convey progress or setback?

Free Character Template

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