Character by Character: A Revision Method that Works

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Revising a novel, some say, is more difficult than writing it. My bet is that in the course of the initial writing you’ve come to know your story like you know the smell of feces. Now it doesn’t only bore you, but also disgusts you, and you end up rushing the revision process.

Through my few years of writing, I’ve read dozens of brilliant articles on revision. But I needed more – a method that suits my genre which involves intricate plotting. That was when I conceptualized the character-by-character revision method.

First, I pick the protagonist and revise every scene in which he/she is the point-of-view character. Then I move on to the scenes narrated by my antagonist, after which I proceed, in the same way, to the scenes told in the perspectives of other point-of-view characters.

Along the process, I made six amazing discoveries – where and how this approach has helped refine my manuscript. Here they are:

Character Arc:
A novel is a coalescence of the stories of various characters. The character-by-character revision method helps me attend to these characters and their stories individually, giving me a clearer picture of their lives – how they manage their demons, weaknesses, values etc.

Dialogue:
Everybody has a way of speaking – some are terse, some are verbose, some are lyrical – and their view of life and personality always leap out at you whenever they open their mouth. The same applies to your characters. But handling the details of many characters at the same time – something we certainly do while writing our drafts – can be overwhelming.

By revising your novel character by character, however, you concentrate on a character at a time and get to efficiently – and subtly – portray his/her personality in the dialogue.

Too Many Point-of-view Characters:
This one pretty much explains itself. Once you’ve categorized your scenes according to point-of-view characters, you’d be able to discern if there are too many point-of-view characters. Well, that’s if you didn’t plan the number of point-of-view characters to use from the onset.

Theme:
How do your characters’ stories – predicaments, feelings, successes, disappointments – apply to our everyday life? How and where would their lives touch your readers? What lessons would readers learn from each character? All this you’d see more clearly if you consider your point-of-view characters’ stories individually.

Boredom:
I know how you feel. Revision can suck, especially when you are in a hurry or when there’s a new story idea hovering in your mind. What could be more boring than reading and rereading a story you’ve come to know so well that you decided to ink it down on paper?

Of course, the problem isn’t the story. I mean, you wrote it from beginning to end. Maybe revising it from end to beginning instead would shatter your boredom.

Or wait! I have a better idea.

Revising your manuscript character by character – reading your characters’ stories one at a time – makes the whole revision process interesting. It’s no longer the story you know. Okay, maybe it is, but you are now seeing it from different perspectives.

Deus Ex Machina:
I know miracles happen, magicians pull rabbits out of their hats, but that doesn’t give you the right to bring God down from heaven so you can save your pathetic hero. The character-by-character method of revision asks the questions: who’s that new guy? Oh, he’s here to save Jim; how did he know Jim and that Jim is in trouble? Where did Jim get his new weapon? When did he develop a new ability?

This is where you start looking for answers in Jim’s previous scenes. Good thing you already have Jim’s scenes singled out.

Tell me. What other methods of revision do you know? In what ways do they benefit your manuscript?

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