Monday, March 5, 2012

The Importance of Being Polished: Character Inconsistency

Have you ever watched the first episodes, maybe even the pilot, of your favorite t.v. show? Mine is/was Friends. I cringe as I see the early years...it seemed like the actors weren't quite as comfortable in their character skin...pushing the lines like they were still trying to decide exactly “how” their character would say them. And if you know the series really well, you'll see that the writers may have created history for the character in the second or third season that doesn't quite match up with what they originally showed in the first season.

Just like t.v. shows beginning episodes may have inconsistencies with their characters' storylines and personalities, after you type "The End" and go back to the beginning of your manuscript, you'll want to watch for the characters' inconsistencies. I'm not necessarily talking about character arc, but about believability in who your characters are and what situations they find themselves in, from beginning to end. Unlike a T.V. show audience, a reader is less forgiving of hiccups like these.

For most of us, those first chapters are written months before the final ones, so your characters take on a life of their own once you get into the story. As I go through and polish my manuscript, certain things my characters said and did at the beginning, were way out of character after knowing who they really were by the end of the novel.

For example, if your character starts out as being confident and outspoken, but you develop later in the story that she has some past issues that give her some major insecurities, you are going to want to be sure to at least hint to those from the beginning so the reader doesn't think you pulled it out of thin air to spice up the story. Believability is jeopardized when this happens.

When you polish your manuscript, be sure to keep your characters in check, and even though they should grow throughout your story, be sure they are still “themselves” from beginning to the end.

Have you discovered hiccups among your characters as you polish your manuscript?
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Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and CEO of a family of six.

31 comments:

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Big hiccups! Especially in my first novel, where I had done little outlining.

I think planning and plotting definitely keeps the hiccups at bay...

Thanks for the post, Angie!

Patty Wysong said...

This is something that I have to really watch for. Thanks for the reminder, especially today as I dive back into chapter one. =]

Angie said...

Heidi, I agree, plotting helps a ton. I tend to be a pantster so even if I have a rough outline, my story gets a mind of its own!
Patty, glad this met you right where you're at! It's exciting to go back once you've seen the story through to completion!

Lindsay Harrel said...

Ha, so true! I had a lot of trouble with one of my MCs. I kept having to go back and change some of her mannerisms once I figured her out. :)

Jeanne T said...

Loved how you used the example of the first season of "Friends" with later ones to make your point. :) It makes a lot of sense to me. :)

I actually attended a writer's retreat recently and learned/realized that my heroine needs some serious work, so I'm back to the drawing board with her and with much of my book to make it better. Sometimes it helps to have others' eyes on my work to see the inconsistencies and gaps I missed.

Melissa Tagg said...

Angie, this is great= stuff! It's so true, you get to know your characters as you write and a lot of times that means rewrites in the beginning...

I am a big My Book Therapy gal, though. And one of the things MBT teaches is how to create characters "from the inside out." Going through that process for my next book has really helped me get to know my characters before writing...it's totally changed the way I approach them.

(Oh, and I totally know what you mean about TV shows!)

Casey said...

As I've been editing, I have spotted inconsistency in my writing. Especially as I work to make my heroine softer. (I have a bad habit of writing tough heroines, the kind a reader doesn't like. ;-)

My show is/was Chuck. It got pulled from the air this Spring. It stayed pretty consistent through all five seasons, but you could see the growth of the characters by watching a bunch of episodes back to back. Really good arc!

Keli Gwyn said...

When I wrote my first five stories, I got to know my characters as I went along. After having to rewrite 3/4ths of a story for my agent due to character inconsistencies (coupled with a major plot problem), I learned the value of fleshing out my characters before beginning a story. I was a pantser, but I've embraced the value of plotting and now consider myself a hybrid--a plotster.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Yes, I think we do get to know those characters the more we're with them. I haven't had issues with my MCs, but there was a certain SIDE character who elbowed his way into a main character position. I just worked with him, and now he's one of my fave characters!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Angie, I SO know what you're talking about. This is actually a current struggle. Before, when I was a SOTP writer, I knew my characters inside and out and they always seemed to be more consistent in their reactions. But I had problems with making their goals and motivations strong. Now that I'm a bit time plotter, it's the opposite. I've got GMC, and all that, but I feel like I'm not in my character's skin for awhile. I'm definitely focusing on this in my next story.

Julia M. Reffner said...

The show I used to watch for the characters was Frasier. The moment Niles walked into their local coffee shop and meticulously wiped down the chair before sitting down...great introduction to his character.

Good post and good thoughts about keeping the characters in check. I'm thinking about this...but forcing myself to keep those edits tucked away for another month or so.

Joanne Sher said...

Oh, what a GREAT reminder. I KNOW I have inconsistencies like this (and I SO notice them in TV series!).
Thanks!

Ruth Douthitt said...

Thanks for the reminder! I know my character from The Dragon Forest as I know my own son. As my son grows, so does my main character.

But now I am developing a young teenage girl and my only reference is myself and the teens I work with at church!

It has been fun getting to know her, but you are right in that I need to be consistent.

Thanks!

Mary Vee said...

I was thinking about my villains, they specifically could have these hiccups. They don't grow rottenness (hmm is that a word?) The rotten quirks are there from the beginning, and probably don't improve. Instead they GROW.
Buwhahahaha.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Timely post, as I just finished my fast draft of my second novel.
I know how my character changed now that I've written the end and your post is an excellent reminder to make sure the character arc flows smoothly from page 1 to "The End." It has to be believable -- not a huge emotional jump that leaves my readers wondering what happened.

Pepper said...

Hiccups?
Good grief, I discover chasms!
Sometimes I feel like I go back and reinvent the character...which is tough because then it changes certain pieces of the story...which then require a rewrite!
AHHHHHHH!!!! I'm sinking! I'm sinking! :-)

After 3 rewrites and dozens of edits, I've finally gotten two of my stories on the right track, with clear characters - but it doesn't happen quickly or easily sometimes :-)

Angie said...

Thanks for all the assurance that I am not the only one! I have had four kiddos keeping me from responding until now. It would be interesting to see how much character re-working a plotter does compared to a pantster. I wish you all the best as you tackle the hiccups or the chasms! I have polished mine and sent it out to other eyes to pick it apart! That is a step I should have mentioned...have a test audience read it for character inconsistency...before the big send off!

Angie said...

Lindsay, I had to do the same thing! Mannerisms are great tools to show who your character is!

Angie said...

Jeanne, The Genesis judges comments showed me that my heroine was lacking...it's easy to think, I quit...good for you on revamping your heroine and persevering!;)

Angie said...

Melissa, Ooh, MBT!! I think I have just skimmed the surface of what they offer... Have had a hard time balancing writing, studying up on craft, reading, and family. Hoping to delve more into the great chats and stuff. And I love that "create a character from the inside out"...got to learn more!!!

Angie said...

Casey, I like to write tragic endings...also not popular...imagine if we collaborated? Tragic ending with a tough heroine???? Hmmm, thinking Joan of Arc!;)

Angie said...

Keil, thanks for giving your experience! Will keep this in mind! Hybrid might be the way to go!

Angie said...

Heather, I always seem to write a side character that is more interesting than my MC!! Maybe an open door for a sequel?

Angie said...

Cindy, this is an interesting perspective! I think I always know what kind of "reactor" my character is, and how they feel, but I jump in before establishing GMC ...and everything gets muddied!

Angie said...

Julia! Love Frasier!!! And kudos to you for setting aside your novel before editing! I am too itchy!

Angie said...

Joanne, it's amazing what we can learn from t.v.! Lol! Thanks for stopping by!

Angie said...

Wow, Ruth! That's awesome that you
Modeled a character after your son...and great that you are exploring new waters with a less-acquainted type! Thanks for sharing!

Angie said...

Mary, sometimes a villain breaks the rules in more ways than one! ;) Love ya!

Angie said...

Beth, "Flow" is a great word to remember when smoothing out inconsistencies! Hope you enjoy the edits! It's fun to go back and remember all the details of the story!

Angie said...

Pepper, however many rewrites you've done, it worked on what I've read!! Love your stories!

Sarah Forgrave said...

I've definitely failed in this area, Angie! I think it's all part of the discovery process of a first draft. But you're so right...We have to go back and put those layers in after we've figured them all out. :)