Updated: Jul 15, 2019
In episode 7, Melissa and Jeni talk to freelance editor Carly Hayward about creating dynamic characters.
Listen in... EPISODE 7 Dynamic Characters.
Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! I’m Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing, and she’s Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.
Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.
On this episode:
We’re talking about how to create dynamic characters
End with an author tip of the week
This week we’re joined by Carly Hayward. Carly is a developmental editor, writing coach, and founder of Book Light Editorial. She has worked in the publishing industry for over 10 years, including at a big 5 publishing house, a small press, a literary agency, a hybrid publisher, and a self-publishing house that helped indie-authors. That experience has helped her to see the industry from all different angles. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Chicago Women in Publishing, and was a panelist at Book Expo America 2016. Carly is a co-founder and editor for Revise & Resub, a pitch event. When not reading or working she lounges with her husband being vastly amused by their cats or binge-watching TV.
Here's the Q&A
What is the best thing about being a developmental editor? What’s the worst?
The best thing is definitely getting to read all these different stories, and the worst is that I don’t get to read for fun very often. Does that make sense? Quite the conundrum. But in all seriousness, I love helping to shape a story and dive into author’s heads in a way that you can’t do as a reader. I love forming connections with authors to the point where we can tell what the other is going to say. These partnerships can create amazing books, and helping to develop that, is amazing. But yeah, the worst part is definitely that it is a struggle to read for fun now. I always feel like I should be reading a manuscript if I’m going to read. And it is nearly impossible to keep up with all the amazing new books. I wish I had more time.
Do you see a lot of the same problems over and over in the manuscripts you edit? What’s the number one problem you see?
Yes, definitely. It’s amazing how manuscripts come in waves with the same problems. Jeni and I have talked about this phenomenon with some other editors we know. And they will be very random problems that come in waves. Like characters describing themselves by looking in mirrors. That one always bugs me. I certainly don’t catalogue my features, especially in a complimentary way. As for the number one problem I see, that’s hard to choose. A lot of manuscripts have similar problems, but the solutions are always different. Pacing is a big one. Almost everyone falls for the saggy middle where not enough happens. Or if enough is happening, it is usually random and doesn’t tie in to the story and feel believable. That usually happens because they want to save the big reveal or the big fight for the end, but your climax should be in the middle, and then the characters deal with the fallout and the cleanup in the last half. But because they are saving these big moments, authors tend to insert random obstacles into the middle to keep up the pace. But these random obstacles are too… random. They still need to tie in to the bigger picture. They still need to be hinted at along the way. Surprises or twists should never be completely surprising. You need to plant clues throughout, so that when the reveals happen, readers go “oh I get it! That makes sense now!” As for characters, one of the biggest problems is they are too perfect. But I’ll get into that later. The other one is that they are too passive. Your characters need to be active throughout the story, pushing the plot to new heights and affecting where the story goes. It doesn’t mean they can actively choose to do nothing, but sitting on the couch and crying is a choice that will then have consequences. This choice will shape where the story goes.
Some red flags that tell you an author needs to dig deeper with their characters?
The thing I mentioned earlier! If a character is too perfect, that’s a huge red flag. That comes from authors wanting readers to like the character, and from them having a wish fulfillment type of thing. Some people just don’t like writing flaws. But flaws are what makes a character relatable and lovable. I can’t be the only one that gets annoyed by perfect people. Well, perceived to be perfect people. They make you envious and feel inadequate, and that’s true in fiction too. Don’t be afraid to let your characters make mistakes. And don’t forget that we all have hard pasts that shape us and make us react in unfavorable ways. The opposite is true for villains, no one is pure evil. We all have redeeming qualities and we all think we are doing the right thing (at least right for ourselves). Villains are usually selfish, not evil. Basically, no one is all one thing. You character should be complex, haunted, capable of love and hate. And don’t make their biggest flaw be something mild, like clumsiness. People have deep-seated flaws as well as surface ones. You need both.
Advice for authors who are struggling with creating realistic characters?
I think I pre-answered this a bit, oops. I can dig in a bit more here. Make sure your characters have different levels of flaws. Everyone talks about Goal, Motivation, and Conflict in regards to your story as a whole, but it should be applied to each individual character. Dig into their past and what shapes them. What is missing in their life that they are trying to fill or fix? What drives them to confront the obstacles that you put in front of them? What are they conflicted about within themselves? What do they hate about themselves? What do they like? On the surface level, what idiosyncrasies do they have and how do they reflect the deeper level? Something like, chewing their nails because they are constantly nervous because they were always doing the wrong thing as a child. You can start in any direction too (although most will say it is best to start with the deep-seated emotion). But if you want your character to constantly play with their hair. Ask yourself when and why they would do it. Then keep working backwards to the base motivation. And then take that motivation and see how it can affect them throughout the piece. How does it change decisions they make? How can it affect the plot? Push your characters to be active and make them affect the story, not passive where they let the story happen to them.
Tip of the week:
Go to One Stop for Writers. This website was created by the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus (which Jeni recommends every novelist have a copy of by the way). They have so many amazing tools for writers at all stages of the writing process. There are tons of free resources as well as paid membership for only $10 a month.
On our next podcast, Jeni and Melissa are talking writing retreats. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at indiechicks.net or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on iTunes. Please rate us! You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or Facebook.com/TheIndieChicks.
So, remember, we’re all part of a publishing community, be kind and review your fellow authors’ books. Thanks for listening!
Indie Chicks out.