Editing For Character

Editing For Character

This month, we’re talking editing and have wonderful guest speakers every Friday on our Deleted Scenes series.

Recently, I was fortunate to have a veteran young adult author, the fabulous Sylvia McNicoll join my critique group for a few sessions. I’m taking her advice as I edit my WIP—look for ways to make that scene work harder, make it do more than one thing, reveal more.

Great advice. As I edit for plot, I also want each scene to reveal something new about the characters, so they will change and grow by the end of the story.

In my WIP, Jessica Stirling is a career-focused woman driven to succeed. This drive stems from a devastating event that occurred in her past, long before the book starts. Nothing takes precedence over her career, so I opened the story threatening the one thing that matters—her job.

In Becky Lower’s guest article she warns against repetition. One of my wonderful critique partner Sherry Isaac pointed out that I’d mentioned Jessica’s need for financial security more than once, otherwise: enough already!

Keeping in mind both Sylvia and Becky’s advice as I edit, I went back to these paragraphs to plant seeds that Jessica is not only thrifty, she’s also too financially insecure to seek the adventure she secretly craves without mentioning that she’s career driven.

And adventure she gets. Accepting this free ticket means Jessica is now part of a mischievous elf’s game, one with a disappearing lady trick Jessica won’t return from.

Instead of showing a before and after, I’ve highlighted in red the sentences I added or changed to make the necessary changes:

“You, princess, are our lucky winner today!” A man on the sidewalk handed her a ticket. “The one-hundred and fifth person to walk by the theatre wins free entrance to our afternoon matinee performance.”

Jessica scanned the street and counted three people. “One hundred and five? How long have you been standing here?”

“I would stand for all time to meet the likes of you, a woman aching to escape the mundane and do with an afternoon of magic, fantasy and adventure.” Silver, shimmering hair hung nearly to his waist, under a black leprechaun-like hat that revealed an appealing face—and not a wrinkle in sight. The irises in his eyes sparkled with both aqua and cobalt blue. Must be contact lenses. The sun glinted off a brass belt buckle peeking out from his long, emerald waistcoat, worn over a crisp, wing-collared white shirt. Black knee-high boots were polished to a shine.

“Unfortunately an adventure isn’t in my budget.” She glanced at the ticket he’d handed her, Markus Productions: Magician and Illusionist. “You’re a magician?”

The glint in his eyes was like a schoolboy’s. “No, not me. I only dabble. T’would be a shame to let a free ticket go to waste. It’s just about to begin and you have my guarantee, there’s no other show like it on Earth.”

She checked her watch—1:55. “No surprise fees?”

“Not another cent.” The exotic-looking man opened the door to the theatre and gave her shoulder a little nudge toward the entrance.

“Then yes, I’ll take your offer, thank you.” She’d watch the magic show because entertainment that wasn’t Hollywood and had nothing to do with Aiden MacAuley was just what she needed to nourish her budding good spirits.

Later in the story, the hero Aiden will point out that Jessica doesn’t allow herself adventures. This is a small way for Jessica to start to see herself differently and a quality she admires in adventure seeker Aiden.

In May, Chuck Wendig is doing a workshop with the Toronto Romance Writers. Can’t wait! Check out his editing advice for great tips and a chuckle here:  Terrible Minds  (beware, naughty language)


  1. Love the subtle clues to Jessica’s money obsession, Sharon. Finn obviously understands Jessica’s hangup. Clever trickster that he is, I’m not surprised he’s done his homework.

    It can be difficult to determine how many times to reference a important point bc you don’t want something critical to be so subtle it passes the reader’s notice or understanding, but you don’t want to hit the reader over the head, either. I recently highlighted all references, even the vague ones, in a revised scene, in orange, so I could see how often and clues to my heroine’s backstory were being addressed. Helped me to narrow down to three, each one a small build on the last. You’ll have to know if I succeeded in our next meeting. lol

    How did writers manage before computers. Never mind the paper and ink. Writer’s cramp had to be crippling!

    • No kidding, Sherry. This writing business is not easy nor necessarily intuitive at times.

      Looking forward to our meet!

  2. Great article, Sharon, and Sherry’s comments were spot on. Your excerpt made me want to go through the door to the magic show. I saw her pass through dark red velvet curtains and enter a hushed, dimly lit theater. What will happen next? I can’t wait to find out! That’s the mark of an excellent scene, and a wonderful author.

    • You are so kind, Deb. Thank you. I have to admit, this scene was fun to write. I loved the idea of rattling this character by imagining what it would be like to ‘disappear’!

  3. Love the subtle hints, instead of the 2×4. That first draft of mine is always too full of things like that. So nice to have a crit group to point it out. Love Sherry’s idea of orange highlighting backstory, and nice job, Sharon, with showing vs telling of not just her financial straights, but her secret longing for adventure. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Jessica. I couldn’t write without my critique partners. I’m often too close to my story to see things from a new reader’s perspective.

    I do love that with each book I write, the process is becoming more intuitive.

    One day, I hope to edit much faster!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *