Meet Your Characters & Save Time Editing
Cindy Kochis, Pen to Paper Press Podcast host
How well do you know the individuals in the storyline you’re writing? Certainly you know them by name; after all you are writing their name as you write the book. But, do you know them?
What if you could sit at a table and hear what they have to say? How wonderful would that be?
Hey there, I’m Cindy Kochis and I am the host of the Pen to Paper Press Podcast. I sit down with best-selling authors, writers, editors, publishers, and creative souls in my virtual studio to talk about the process of developing our stories to completing our works of art.
Each episode is an opportunity for us to explore mindsets, pearls of wisdom, and the experiences that began our journey as a writer from the moment we put pen to paper.
From time to time, like today, I share my thoughts on creativity and bringing awareness to some of the key elements of writing our books. The topic we’ll be exploring is about meeting our characters and the benefits of knowing those details prior to completing the first draft.
Why is it important to know your character before you write their story? Or, at least in the beginning stages of the book versus at the completion?
Knowing your character and the focal point of your story will help to prevent writer’s block, keep the story on track and prevent you from wandering down dead end roads as often. It will, in addition, help to keep their traits and personal identifiers consistent.
Personal identifiers are the bits of information you share to allow the reader to envision the individuals you write about that you see while composing the content.
It’s important to keep the blue eye blonde a blue eye blonde; unless, for some reason it’s necessary for her to cut her straight, hip-length, dirty dishwater blonde hair to a pixie cut and dyes her hair color to match her naturally dark eyebrows. And, at the same time, change her undecorated eye lashes to thick, voluptuous black lashes and apply a captivating red lipstick that only a brunette with striking blue eyes can carry off.
Makes me wonder why she wanted to, or had to, change her appearance. Did she finally get the courage to leave the deadbeat spouse to experience a different lifestyle; the one she’d imagined after watching her favorite movie for the twelfth time? Did she want to live out her fantasy of becoming a bar tender in the city? Did she pull off a jewelry heist? Or, did she wake up one day, and state, “I want a change.”
Another trait that’s important to maintain would be her thoughts about herself. Is she shy, overbearing, or have the sex drive of a teenager? Does she smoke? What about swearing? What are some of the descriptors that will come up in the natural flow of writing?
To expand on the natural flow of writing, you’re not going to start the first sentence in the first paragraph of the first chapter with Sally Jones has blue eyes and long blonde hair. And, you’re not going to introduce her by writing, Meet Sally Jones. She has blue eyes that captivates the attention of every man she meets. The details of her eyes will be better severed weaved into the story, don’t you think? Say, when a man sees her in a crowded restaurant. Oh, did you catch that point of view shift? Good chance that topic comes up in another podcast.
Let’s structure the meeting between Sally and the man without shifting the point of view. Heck, I might as well share this bit of insight instead of teasing that I may or may not put it in a podcast. Sally is incapable of knowing his thoughts until he tells her. That was the point of view shift.
Here, let me show you a way to weave the character’s identifiers into the storyline:
Sally starts to push open the bathroom door. She pauses. The thought, What am I doing? crosses her mind. Sally looks back at the reflection of her lifeless, hip-length hair in the mirror above the dripping faucet. That’s my mom’s hair. A sigh empties her lungs. She steps closer to the mirror and turns her body to have a better view of memories she carries in her long, straight hair. I’m tired of being her shadow.
The sound of a toilet flushing breaks her wrestling thoughts. Sally waved her hands under the faucet to activate the motion sensor and applied a spritz of foam soap. Her throat felt constricted as she looked in the mirror at the necklace she received from Fred just because. There was a reason he bought her a blue sapphire pendant. It wasn’t their anniversary. It wasn’t for a celebratory holiday. Just because I love you is code for Forgive me. I’ve done something inexcusable that I will not tell you about.
The stall door opened. A woman in her forties, wearing a short, body hugging, burgundy dress approaches the sink next to Sally. “What a gorgeous night to be alive,” she said followed with a confident chuckle.
Sally noticed the crows feet that appeared around the woman’s eyes when she smiled. She cleared her throat, and replied, “Yeah. It is.” The woman in the mirror dried her hands and returned to the sink she used.
The woman ran her hands through her short, raven black hair to accentuate and fluff the curls. The lipstick case she pulled from a small clutch dangling near her waist was a deep purple. Sally could not help but watch how the woman applied the deep red lipstick to her upper lip and then her lower lip. So that’s how you do it, she thought.
Realizing she’d been washing hands the entire time, Sally reached over to the paper towel dispenser on her left and pulled two sheets out. She looked into mirror to see the woman’s chocolate brown eyes looking into Sally’s.
The woman shared before leaving the restaurant’s restroom, “Life it is too short. Wear the lipstick that commands attention.”
Alone again, Sally turned her focus on her self in the mirror, “God, if you can hear me, give me a sign.” The paper towel she tossed at the waste basket fell onto the floor. She snorted a bit of laughter. “That’s not the sign I was looking for.”
Betty, her dearest and oldest friend, waved to Sally at a table near the bar where they had started their evening out. “What took you so long? Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry about that.” Sally thrust back her chair and it hit the chair behind her. “Sorry.”
The man Sally bumped into turned around, and replied, “Yeah. Careful…” His words trailed off.
“Sorry,” Sally repeated.
“It’s okay. No problem. It’s tight quarters in here,” he said to Sally. He scooted his chair closer to his table.
As Sally sat down, she overheard the man tell his friend, “Did you see those ice blue eyes of hers? Now those I could sit across from at breakfast.”
Okay. So I got a bit carried away. But you get the idea. Don’t give away all the details up front. When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know everything about them. First impressions are grand, and how we, for lack of a better word, judge the individual. It’s through time we get to know them on a deeper level. And, similar to meeting someone, you don’t tell them, “Hi, my name is Cindy, I am five foot-something, weight whatever, have this eye color, and have a hop to my step. Allow the reader to observe the characters as you observe the people surrounding you. Let the details unfold naturally and let some of it be a mystery without leaving them clueless of how to envision the person you’re writing.
And, by the way, that was a quick first draft. As I read it to you, I noticed a few errors and things I’d change up on this, but, that’s not the point. The point is to weave their personality and traits nonchalantly into the story. It will add depth and interest. Again, you want the reader to explore the characters versus getting a dating site description.
Would you like to meet a character or two? You are writing their story, and the events of their life. How about meeting all of them? None are insignificant. They all have a role. And, if they do not, then they don’t belong in that particular storyline. Maybe they fit better in another book.
During one of the group coaching sessions in the 21-Day Writers Intensive I offered in February, I was intuitively inspired to do a Meet the Characters guided meditation for the participants and myself. I love when stuff like this happens. I was inspired by it that shortly afterwards I whipped up a Meet the Characters pdf and recorded another meditation to host on the courses.pentopaperpress.com website. Within a couple of days I expanded the pdf into more of a booklet to dig deeper, and recorded several more guided meditations so we could learn more about the characters and get to know their secrets. Who knows, maybe I’ll go a step further a publish a workbook! The possibilities are endless. Well, at least that’s what I tell myself.
What was interesting for me, as I recorded the meditation, I was a participant; an observer, you could say. I sat with a character, one that sorta fits a book I started more than ten years ago. It was intriguing to sit with this character. So much so that I’ve thought about holding off on the non-fiction book and memoir I’m focusing on.
You can find the Meet the Characters guided meditations and associated worksheets at courses.pentopaperpress.com. There are two self-guided programs for you to choose from. Both options come with a pdf to record the insights you received during the meditation.
For those who are not into guided meditations or formatted worksheets? Here’s a couple of ideas that I’ve used in the past:
First is index cards. I used to have a file box for each book project I penned. Each character had a card. I’d list their name, sex, eye and hair color, body frame type, their height, what they drove, and whatever details were appropriate for that storyline.
Another idea is loose notebook paper, dividers or sticky notes to use as dividers, and a three ring binder. Again, list out their name and descriptive details about the people. This is a great way for retaining information regarding the settings, and the locations, within the book.
For those what are technology-minded, create a spreadsheet and start a new tab for each character. Or, use a blank document and create a folder for the book on your hard drive to keep track of the details there. There’s a lot of apps out there for recording these kinds of details.
Explore, find, and implement the system that works for your creative mind. Down the road, you’ll be glad you have this reference guide to keep yourself on track. Life happens and you may find you have to pause in writing your book, or it could be you simply don’t have long stretches of time to write in one sitting. The point is, you don’t want to search back in your book three months down the road to find out if Sally has blonde hair and when she’s dyed it brunette. It’s details like this you’ll find when you go back to read and edit the first draft. If you assumed wrong, then you may have to make major rewrites versus less detail oriented errors because you had created the reference guide for yourself. Save yourself the frustration of updating the content so it is consistent.
Sure, a good editor will find those inconsistencies. The thing is why submit a sloppy manuscript to them?
Okay. It’s getting to be that time where I wrap things up. When you ready to meet your characters, and save time editing, visit courses.pentopaperpress.com.
I offer personal guided meditations and self-learning programs. To schedule a private, personal guided meditation, visit pentopaperpress.com. Under Programs in the menu bar, select Meet the Character tab. To register for the self-learning programs, visit courses.pentopaperpress.com.
Recently someone asked how I support this podcast. They were curious and concerned for my well-being. I have great friends, as you know. They suggested I mention it here, as well.
There’s several ways for you to support me and the products and services I offer. First of all, sharing the podcast on social media is priceless to me. When you share an episode you extend my reach to the people who might not otherwise heard this podcast. There are several ways you can help to financially support the podcast. I created a Patron account through the hosting company I use to help relieve some of the expense load of hosting, maintaining, my time, and promoting the Pen to Paper Press Podcast. You can pledge $1, $5, $10, or $20 per month. You’ll find various “Be My Patron” buttons on the website or go patron.podbean.com/pentopaperpress.
Attend one of my group coaching programs or, in the cast of this episode, purchase the Meet the Characters: Get to Know Their Secrets self-learning master class. Hire me to help you develop your story, editing services, prep your book for printing, or help you with your website. I am truly one of those multi-passionate entrepreneurs.
Okay. It’s time to wrap this up.
As always, thank you for spending this time with me in the virtual Pen to Paper Press Podcast studio. Be sure to share your preferred method for keeping track of the important details and leave a comment on the show notes for this episode. To locate the individual episode show notes, go to pentopaperpress.com/podcast, select this episode on the list. While you’re on the website, take a moment to subscribe to my newsletter in addition to this podcast on your favorite application.
Take care of Self. And, know that your words have power and your story matters. Bye for now.
Points of Interest:
21-Day Writing Intensive
Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine Archives
Meet Your Characters Guided Meditation
Meet Your Characters: Get to Know Their Secrets Guided Meditation
Pen to Paper Writers Circle
CK Kochis, INHC, is writer and multi-passionate entrepreneur. She is currently focusing her energies on hosting the Pen to Paper Press Podcast and guiding writers on their journey of developing the storylines and characters of the books they are writing.
Pen to Paper Press Podcast was created to help writers give voice to their books, writing process, backstory, and share their journey. She has recorded conversations with authors getting ready to publish their first book to a gentleman with his name on thirty-plus book covers to a memoirist to a digital magazine publisher and editor. Each of us has a unique story; an important story. She reminds listeners, “Your words have power. Our story matters.”
Following her heart and intuitive guidance, Cindy published the first issue of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine, a digital publication focusing on the various elements of experiencing balance in on our life, in May 2016. Explore the magazine archives at elementsforahealthierlife.com/the-archives.
She shares her sass and transformational journey, along with pearls of wisdom, in her blog at ckkochis.com.
“Life is an amazing adventure; it was never intended to be lived in gray-scale.” – CK Kochis
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Podcast music by Joseph McDade
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