Exploring Characters, from Backstory to Climax

So as I’ve mentioned before, I’m deep in revisions of Manifestation. I just started Draft Four, which will be wrapped up soon since it’s mostly a quick-little-fixes draft plus a LOT of cuts. Draft Three was major line edits and restructuring, so hopefully I don’t need to do more of that. Instead I’m focusing on things like which sections of the story drag, what is/isn’t needed for the story itself, and what needs to be cut.

Something I’m learning as I go along is that I tend to “think out loud” on the page as I’m writing a first draft. This leads to a lot of crap in a draft that needs to be cut. BUT in the long run, this is actually a good thing.

Allow me to explain.

See, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you sometimes need to just sit down and write, even if you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing. Manifestation was like that early on. There was a point in the early chapters where I didn’t know what Tock needed to be doing. I knew where, geographically and in terms of the plot, I needed to get her. But I didn’t know how to get her there.

In order to explain this in more details (without major spoilers), I’ll use Lord of the Rings as an example.

Let’s say Tock started off in the Shire. And I knew the first leg of the journey was to get her to Rivendell for the big Fellowship Hoedown. Those are Point A and Point F. When I sit down to write any of my novels, I always know what my starting point and ending point are. I knew it for Contamination and I knew it for Collapse. What I DON’T usually know is what Points B, C, C-1, D, D-1, D-2, E, and so forth are. I don’t know how to get my characters from their peaceful starting points to the place where the big dramatic plot shift starts.

So what I tend to do is just sit down and write in the moment. I picture the character, say on the road in her beat up pickup truck (I know, she wouldn’t have a pickup truck in Middle Earth, but stay with me), and she has to get to Rivendell. And what I realize is, not only do I not know how to get her there, but she doesn’t know how to get there.

I wrote a similar post about this awhile back, with how I let the characters talk things out in order to figure out where things are going. Except in this case, at the beginning of Manifestation, Tock had to figure things out alone. This led to a lot of internal monologue and a lot of meandering as I wrote out every detail, every mile of her journey from Point A to Point F.

The end result was about 6 chapters in excess of I’d say 15,000 words before she got there. When I looked back at this I realized that it was WAY too much. A lot of it was irrelevant to the overall story. I mean, do we really NEED to know every road driven down, every ocean crossed? No. We need to get the characters to where they need to be for the story to continue.

So I ended up making a lot of cuts, and trimming about 10,000 of those words. I went through and figured out which parts of this journey were the plot-crucial ones, which ones carried important parts of the story, and kept those. The rest I cut away. The result is a leaner, meaner novel that gets down to business instead of spending a few thousand words on Tock looking up ship schedules online.

But despite all those cuts, there WERE a few special tidbits in that 10,000 words that HAD to be saved. There were certain moments of character development that were crucial, and had to be pulled out and re-worked into the plot-central portions. In some cases it would be a couple of sentences. In other cases it would be a whole paragraph. I take these tidbits and pull them from the scrap, then paste them back in at a more fitting place. This shows me that the meandering, “thinking out loud” portions of the story served a purpose. Not only did they keep me writing until I got to the good stuff, but there were a few gems buried among all of the writing. And then once I got things really rolling along, well, then it was just solid gold.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’ll be wrapping up Draft Four fairly soon (hopefully this week, since it’s just a minor fixes draft). Hopefully it won’t be long before you can all read it!

In the meantime, I still have a short story, Radiance, that you can download on Amazon Kindle. It gives a nice little teaser of the events you’ll be seeing in Manifestation. I think it’s a darn good story, but you don’t have to take my word for it; just check the reviews.

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10 thoughts on “Exploring Characters, from Backstory to Climax”

  1. Good luck with the final edits! I applaud your ability to ‘pants’ chapters and then make the necessary cuts. I am die-hard plotter – once I know point A and point B I literally won’t sleep until I sketch out a plausable path and then let the writing settle in and dictate whether that path worked. Do you keep a seperate file / folder / running list of cut items for later reuse?

    1. Thanks!

      Yeah I’ve tried plotting things out before, and it just really doesn’t work for me. I end up going off the rails. Big time. The final climax of Manifestation and the direction the plot took was COMPLETELY different from what I’d originally planned, though the main Key Point was still reached (just via a completely unexpected path).

      I keep files of everything I cut. Currently I have a folder with about 8 different Word docs, each one containing different “sets” of cuts. Sometimes I put a whole cut chapter in its own file, while other times a series of related scenes go in a file together. Then I read through them and see if I find anything that needs to be salvaged. When I cut the 10,000 words mentioned above, I read through the whole thing and considered each individual scene for salvageable bits.

  2. Loved your post. I think putting words “on paper” always has good results even if it does require extra editing time later. But also I LOVE how you ended this post with an introduction into your work. As a reader I’m a thousand times more likely to checkout your work (which I’m going to do as soon as I finish this comment) now that I’ve read your blog post and found your thoughts intelligent and your writing style pleasing than a million tweets about free or 99 cent books. Keep writing and blogging and readers will come!

    1. Yeah I hear a lot of writers complain about “Writer’s Block” saying that they just don’t know what to write. My view is: write anything, even if you’re writing about your character sitting in her room feeling sorry for herself. Sooner or later if you keep developing the scene, she’ll get up and go do something interesting, and you can always go back and cut the boring parts. They served a purpose: they got the ball rolling!

      And I’m glad you approve of my advertising method. I disagree with endless “Buy my book!” tweets all over Twitter. They annoy me. I tweet one here and there, but rarely. I prefer to drop a more subtle link to Radiance in my blog posts since I’m already on the subject of my writing and it’s a natural segue.

      And I certainly hope you enjoy it! There will be lots more to come (4 novels and 10 short stories currently written and awaiting edits).

  3. Ha! This post had me at “get her to Rivendell for the big Fellowship Hoedown.”

    I agree; if you don’t know what to write, just write until you do. I’m a plotter, but when creating my plots I do a lot of freewriting, talking to myself while I drive, and character dialogue to figure out my plot.

  4. Ha! I’m completely the same. Soooo much of my first draft has found its way to the recycle box. I have the roughest plot outline and just write! Thankfully it comes but it does result in hefty re-writes and plot u turns. But good luck with the re-writes and edits. Sculpting is fun. šŸ™‚

    1. Indeed. And the other good part is I can sometimes reuse the material I cut. For example, I have one series of scenes that didn’t work well with the main plot of Manifestation, but which COULD be revised into an individual short story. It’s a section that I think is really interesting and I love, but which had to be sacrificed for the plot (“Kill your Darlings”). I may publish it as a short story in the future, with some tweaks and revisions.

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