Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fixing Characters Who Cry (AKA The Tough Love Edit)

I'm about two-thirds of the way through my first big editing round on the first draft of my novel. At this point, I'm only interested in the bigger picture of if the plot holds together. Despite this plot-centric focus, though, something keeps cropping up that I can't ignore.

My main character cries. A lot.

Granted, if I were in her shoes I would cry a lot, too. It is a mystery I'm writing. She doesn't have an easy row to hoe, so to speak. But good grief, this woman is a waterworks. I went back and did a Find in Word on how many times the word "cry" appeared in the entire manuscript. I'm not going to confess to the number here.

The thing is, I would never describe my character as a weepy kind of gal. I consider her pretty resilient, all things considered. That, however, is the problem. Her resiliency still exists in my head; it never quite made it to the page. So while I'm going ahead with the plot edits, I'm flagging the script every time this gal falls apart. Sometimes I'll let her, but most of the time she's just going to have to take a deep breath and get on with it.

This little exercise, though, has heightened my awareness of other annoying character traits. My police sergeant sighs quite a bit. I meant to show that he was tired or frustrated, but it's coming off as exasperated. Flag, flag, flag, cut, cut, cut.

I also have several characters tapping pens, drumming fingers, and thumping a staccato beat on every piece of furniture that exists. That particular action was meant to convey that a character was thinking, mulling over, or sorting through clues mentally. There are better ways to show that, so I held a mini lottery. Only one character gets to drum his fingers against a desk, and he only gets to do it once.

I'm now on hyper alert for excessive shrugging, smiling, eyebrow raising, and chewing. We won't go into how many cups of tea are made. It is set in Scotland, after all, and it's cold there. My characters need their tea.

In the end, I hope this will make for a much stronger manuscript. Otherwise, you'll probably find me over here crying, sighing, and tapping my pen.