What drives a story more than character? I’m on my fourth rewrite of The Ghost of Ridge Hill and find that more and more my characters need to be defined by individual characteristics.
In the first draft, Anthony was the POV character, because I heard that boy stories were needed. (which shows that you should never write to the publisher gossip). However, in a manuscript critique I entered through the Florida Pen Women, three out of four critics said it was Mattie’s story, which brought the first rewrite.
Then at the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference in August of 2010, a critique came that the ghost should appear more. Thus the second rewrite! Now I’m working with a literary editor. (I thought I needed another point of view at the text because I was SO familiar with it, I couldn’t remember what was repeated.) Patty is a marvelous help on that.
However, Patty thought the story would be more unique if it came from the ghost’s POV rather than Mattie’s. SO the third rewrite is now coming through. Will I EVER get this book completed?? Yes! My goal is mid-August!!
Which brings me to the subject of character!
With each rewrite, the characters have become more clear and have taken on a life of their own.
Their appearance, clothing, gestures and expressions are more vivid. I describe their body shape, their movements, objects that are important to them. And of course the setting and placement in the story have an effect of them also.
For instance, Anthony is the prime mover of one chapter when he and Mattie are in the woods where he grew up. But Mattie takes on the “boss” role when they are in her house. And, of course, Ruby, the ghost, is always hovering by an elbow or a window putting in her three cents.
A minor character, Mrs. Sturgis, whose daughter is the librarian, comes in for two chapters. She’s integral to a twist in the plot, but seemed flat. Patty suggested giving her a character flaw. I am giving her an odd quirk, which adds a bit of humor to her scenes and creates a more interesting person to read about. As I contemplate and write her quirk, she is becoming a more interesting character.
Also considering character, in a book they need a wide range of emotional reactions. Mattie shows excitement at the discovery of the ghost in her new house, yet feels fear at the attempt to exorcize her. Anthony is quiet at the beginning of the book but becomes an integral part in the exorcism in the middle. Ruby, the ghost, grows in strength as she is able to appear, speak through Anthony, and finally toss leaves over the two friends.
Characters need a wide range of complexities, both in physical, emotional and spiritual levels. As these become more prominent, their inner life and thoughts become more important to the movement of the story.
I find character charts help me a lot in remembering my subjects, especially with minor characters who appear only occasionally, like Mattie’s and Anthony’s parents. I find myself referring to them off and on. Was Sheila’s hair blonde or brown? Did Nan have curly or straight hair? Were Anthony’s glasses steel gray or horn rimmed?
Have fun with your characters. They eventually become your friends.