Writing is weird because its just downright hard to judge your work sometimes. Writing friends, you know what I mean. You look at someone’s work and know they need to cut a character because it’s serving the same purpose as another. But when they say that to you, it’s like, oh. Huh. I didn’t see that. And then when you do see it, you’re like, well, there it is. Even if someone tells you to try and fix it by adding a character with different traits, you may not be sure what traits to add that would actually improve your book.
Well, I’ve been going through this thing in my manuscript where I can see clearly the action plot of my story, but the emotional story, while there, was just not working. And its been this THING that’s been hovering over me because I wasn’t sure how or even IF I could fix it. It’s like knowing you’re weak in drawing, and wondering if its just something people are born knowing how to do, or if its learn-able. Creating empathy is I’d venture to say, like the art of the book. Prose, maybe. It seems more like costume to me. I can love it, but can I be moved by prose alone? I don’t think so. Maybe though. I won’t rule that out; I’m not actually all that well-read. But empathy was my biggest problem. And it felt like the worst problem to have. And I suspected it was because of character development.
So, I did this thing I said I’d never do. I did a character worksheet. It’s like D&D for writers. In my head, every time someone at a conference said, DO A CHARACTER WORKSHEET, I would envision a half-elf with purple eyes who turned red when danger was near. I’d roll the dice to find he had a constitution of 12, but a charisma of 4. And I was like, fuck no. So, I must have been feeling desperate, right? A little bit. But, the reason I did the worksheets was because of Cheryl Klein’s book, Second Sight. I’m naturally attracted to books she edits. And the way she speaks about writing and editing resonates with me, so when she said in her book to do a character worksheet, I swallowed my pride and trusted her. The whats and whys that the worksheet brought out in my characters were insightful and surprising. But I still had to figure out how they’d get to the actual pages.
When I did that, I was like, huh, I wonder if this worked. I was really hoping for an AHA! Like maybe Cheryl had this second sight, but I obviously still didn’t. So, I took some revisions to the critique group, and guess what. The revisions worked. My favorite part was when Virginia said something like, “I don’t know why I feel so much more now, but I do.” And then Lisa was like, “I loooooooooooved the rewrite.” And Mike was like, “Where’s the cannibalism?” Just kidding, Mike didn’t say that (to me). He said the flashbacks worked well, and I’m super-insecure about writing flashbacks, so that made me happy.
So, with my ego all inflated, I’ve found the courage to tell you all to DO CHARACTER WORKSHEETS. But do them Cheryl Klein style. What’s especially great about her book is that it focuses on writing and editing picture books and young adult books. And there’s more in there than character worksheets, so if you can’t bring yourself to do them, still read the book.