Sloppiness, language abuse, mixed metaphors… what’s next? Character acrobatics. Maya gives us another element of craft to watch out for. Unlike the previous entries, though, this one isn’t about sentence and paragraph structure, but about visualizing and tracking our characters…
By Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Do you know where your characters are?
No, seriously. In any given scene, do you know where your characters are and what they're doing? Does your reader?
In one manuscript I edited recently, our hero was walking, then he was on horseback, then he was walking again. First he had a rifle, then there was no rifle, then there was... (No, wait. Isn't that a song by Donovan?)
Will-o-the-wisp characters indicate the scene is not written vividly enough to fix such an important detail as where the characters are in the writer's mind. If you can't picture where your characters are, your reader won't be able to either.
How does it happen? Sometimes the writer induces errors in logistics during the editing process, unintentionally deleting a line and leaving the heroine sitting in a chair by the window when he meant her to stand and cross the room to confront the villain. It's a shock to the reader when she suddenly slaps the villain across the face. You can just imagine how the villain feels.
Sometimes the writer simply loses track of where the character is, either because he wasn't paying attention when he wrote the scene or because he wrote the scene over a period of time.
In any event, the problem is careless editing. The writer never goes back and carefully rereads the scene. I know a number of writers who hate rereading and editing so much that they will do almost anything to avoid it (even paying me to do it for them). Why? I don't know. Personally I find editing as much or more enjoyable than writing. It's where I get to mold the details of my story. It's where the characters develop nuance of personality and mannerism. It's where the plot takes on new subtlety.
The antidote to this is careful editing, visualizing the scene as you read it, rather than allowing the image in your head to set the scene. Remember, your reader can't read your mind—only the words you put on the page.
I better go back over the last short story I wrote… In the meantime, stay tuned for the next segment of Maya’s series (on properly setting the stage for a scene). Thanks for stopping by!