A Character Template: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask

By Julie M. Goldberg

The fiction project I’m working on features a large cast of characters gathered in a supermarket one autumn evening. I won’t elaborate on what is happening to them there, but suffice to say that not one is having a pleasant shopping experience.

When writing my first novel, I felt that the characters existed in the universe somewhere, and my role was to get well enough acquainted with them that they would trust me and tell me their story. They did, but it took a long time.

The characters in the current story have suggested their collective existence and experiences to me, but require much more effort to sculpt as individuals. I wanted each to have a separate soul, as evidenced through her language, her longings, and her choices.

Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor”

In anticipation of our upcoming 6-week workshop, “Step into Revision,” here’s a brief discussion on the topic. And, following typical revision advice (“Show, don’t tell”), our Fiction Editor, Donna Lee Miele, demonstrates the art of clarifying character motivation, improving syntax and word choices, and creating momentum in a scene.

Patience: First Draft and the Revision Persona

In prose or poetry, fiction or personal essay, revision begins in the first draft as the nagging, questioning voice of self-doubt. Most of us begin hearing that voice in the middle of the first paragraph! That voice is your revision persona. As you press forward, make note of that persona-non-grata’s questions and comments in a separate file or notebook. Then ask her to kindly get out of your way. Be determined, but don’t rush your first draft. The first principle of writing, and re-writing, is patience.