Have you ever got to the end of a piece and discovered the character you started out with is not the character you ended up with? Even with the best planning and character exploration before writing, characters have a tendency to evolve as the narrative plays out, and especially if we’re writing our way into their headspace.
On the weekend I had the honour of attending an editing workshop presented by Australian editor, Shelley Kenigsberg. She had a wonderful personality test to inflict on characters at the editing stage – to get to know them better in their most recent guise. The personality test was based on a series of traits – both positive and negative which the character is rated on from 1 through 10. At the end a tally was taken for each side.
Then the positive traits were extrapolated out to see how they may be negatively expressed (for example, the trait of being disciplined may be taken to the extreme as obsessive, intractable etc) and how each character rates. While you might have a character scoring high as generous, is their generosity even handed or are they a martyr, giving everything? Again each side is tallied.
How does your character fare?
An exercise such as this helps at the second or third draft stage to:
- scrutinise a character in a 360 degree fashion
- give the author a chance to get to know a character as they are now and perhaps discover something new about them
- help the author to consider how each of these traits relate to a character’s past, present and future, as well as how it colours their relationships, actions and reactions. Are they all believable?
- solidify any comments or critiques received from beta readers about the character (beta readers often see characters far more objectively)
- complete a rewrite, keeping the character authentic from start to finish
Before we take the editorial razorblade to any of our characters we’d better known darn well where we’re cutting and why. Like their real life counterparts, our characters are not so keen on having their blood spilt. And no one likes looking like Frankenstein’s monster.
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This week I’d like for us to (collectively) create a list of traits, either off the top your head or using characters you are currently working with/have worked with, stating:
1. a positive trait
2. the opposite negative trait
3. a negative expression of the positive trait