So you finally finished your story. You met all your deadlines. Your word count is where it needs to be. Everything's hunky-dory...except for one thing...it's not. As you read through your rough draft, you're starting to notice that your scenes need more than just a little fixing up, and that somehow they don't have the pizzazz you imagined.
You might be noticing a few or more of these symptoms:
1) The scenes are briefer than you want them to be
2) Your characters tend to do the same generic things a lot. (ex: any time there's a catastrophe they're all always sighing and fiddling. any time they're being comforting someone's hand is on top of someone else's hand, shoulder, or knee.)
3) Your scenes are overly passionate or under-enthusiastic.
4) You feel as though your story is missing depth in places
5) The suspense isn't building up the way you thought it would OR
6) Your suspense isn't fluid, but only appears scattered in different places
7) You find yourself wanting to know more about your characters
8) Describing the setting for the MC's home or favorite places is difficult for you
9) Something about the relationships between your characters isn't quite right
The problem is you don't know your characters well enough. You might have filled out one of those character questionnaires or made an outline and thought you knew your characters to the extent you needed, but...you don't. The reason your characters are always doing the same things, why your scenes are briefer, why you can't describe their house or their favorite restaurant well enough, is because you don't know them well enough to know how they should be acting, what they should be doing to fill in the scene, and the types of places they like to go to or live in. You may know how they feel and why they feel that way, but you don't yet know how they react to all of the different levels of emotions or bits of conversation or whatever it is they're going through.
Here's how to solve this:
1) Write a new questionnaire for each of the major and minor characters, and see if your answers are different now that the rough draft is finished.
2) Write down everything about your MC's appearance. Then, add their favorite gestures or expressions. Using my MC as an example: "peach-toned, chapped, bottom heavy lips. rarely wears lipstick though sometimes gloss. Hates pouty lips, but loves to smirk." I did this for her eyes, hands, etc.
2) Ask yourself deep questions about your characters: First crush, first kiss, childhood dream, present dream, biggest fault, family life (early and present). All of those random little things that make us that we don't think about day to day. Include their thoughts on other characters, or note how they met the other characters.
3) Answer a few of these questions by writing a scene about them.
4) Rewrite a few scenes in a different style or tense. If your story is in 1st person present tense, try writing it in 1st person past tense. It helped me to write it like my MC was writing a journal entry or retelling it to a friend.
All of these little pieces will help you to understand your characters, what they like and don't like, their back stories and the ways they function. From this, you may find that your story is missing something that it needs to help it move ahead, something you skipped over in your desire to forward the story the way you originally planned. If not, you will most likely find that your characters were going about things incorrectly, in ways that aren't true to them. Either way, it's good news. You're on the verge of a major breakthrough.
Tune in tomorrow for tips on how to turn the insights you found into the manuscript you wanted.
<3 Gina Blechman