I’m currently revising my manuscript in response to editorial suggestions -- mostly from my agent Jim, but also from feedback I received during my agent search and from my second round of beta readers.
The focus is on increasing emotional and character depth, and I thought I'd share some themes and tips from my revision notes.
1. Relationships should include both tension and harmony
Relationships will be more compelling if they include a balance of conflict and cooperation. For example, my villain is a pretty ruthless guy, but his evil deeds would have more impact if my protagonist (and my readers) believed that he was also capable of good. Therefore, I’m reworking some passages to show his nicer side. Likewise, there’s an “older brother” figure who acts as a emotional anchor. That's all well and good, but making him less unconditionally supportive and more human adds depth to his relationship with my protagonist, and the conflict actually strengthens their emotional bond.
2. Present backstory early to increase character depth
Several readers mentioned having trouble connecting to one of my point-of view characters. I’ve been doing several thing to address this. First, I’m going through and fleshing out his emotional reactions. Also, Jim suggested moving his backstory earlier in the narrative so readers can get a better sense of who he is. My opinions of backstory have changed quite a bit over the past year. I used to avoid it because people so often warned against backstory overload, but I'm coming to realize how important it is for character bonding. Also, an analysis of some favorite books showed that backstory was actually more prevalent than I thought.
3. Everything should be connected
When a big emotional event happens, it should echo through the later scenes, in the character's thoughts, and affect her later actions. Also, characters that have a strong emotional bond with the protagonist should appear in her thoughts at appropriate times.
When I revise, I give myself writing exercises to see the manuscript with fresh eyes. This is what I've been doing from scene to scene.
1. Write out each character’s motivation going in.
2. Ask whether any of these developments in the scene make the character think of previous events, future events, or other characters.
3. Jot down the POV character's emotional state from paragraph to paragraph.
This has been both entertaining and enlightening. I started off eloquently, with notes like “confused”, “worried”, “uneasy.” Halfway through the book, notes have disintegrated into “Gahhh!”, “ZOMG”, “Run!!!!.”
But I’ve found this exercise useful for pinpointing places where the emotion didn't quite make it onto the page. It also maps out dramatic tension. My most exciting scenes have emotions that change every paragraph. Sometimes however, I will only mark one emotion for an entire page -- and surprise, surprise, those are usually the scenes that test readers have told me were emotionally flat.
Thus far, I'm really excited about how revisions are going. I feel like this round is really stretching me as a writer and forcing me to work on my blind spots.
Now readers, it's your turn. What are your tricks for increasing emotional and character depth?
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