Your characters can make or break your novel. Interesting characters that are fully fleshed out are essential. When you are editing your novel, how do you determine if your characters lack that special spark which makes readers connect to them? One way is to look at Rick Taubold’s Character Data Sheet, which is available free when you sign up for a free membership at Silver Pen Writers. In this Word document is a list of characteristics that you should know about each of your characters, but most especially about your main character(s). And for your single most important character, you may want to take a look at his Extended Character Data Sheet (also a free download at Silver Pen Writers).
The standard data sheet has four sections: Physical Description, Background and Resume, Personality and Emotional Description, and Story Role. I think most writers give a fair amount of thought to the first two sections, but less to what I would say are the key sections.
Emotions play a huge role in novels. I sometimes feel like a broken record when I tell new writers to up the emotional impact of their writing. Writers must be willing to risk something, and sometimes everything, they have emotionally to produce a book that will touch the reader in a special and long-lasting way. They must pour their hearts into every word, every action and every description. To do this, a writer must dig into their characters and find out who they really are. The data sheets, with questions like “Why is the character in the story?” and “What does the character want?” will help focus and identify the behavior and role and emotions of the character.
Once you feel you, as the author, know your characters, it is time for your readers to get to know them. The best way is by making their actions and dialog fit their personality and emotional state. Bring their characterization to life gradually, not in one great exposition. This may sound like part of the huge “show-don’t-tell” litany that writers are often overexposed to, but what you really want to do is have your reader experience and feel what the character is experiencing and feeling. This goes beyond just “showing” to something more emotionally charged.
Because your characters are key to your story, editing to ensure you’ve done the best possible job with all your characters deserves a pass through your novel all on its own, without being distracted by any other of the myriad of editing tasks.