Editing: the line between characterization and caricatures

Good dialogue should be like a domino chain. Each comment should fall into the next easily and steadily.

Good dialogue should be like a domino chain. Each comment should fall into the next easily and steadily.

Editing today was difficult, but I am incredibly happy with the results!

I’m working (still!) on giving the first two chapters of “The King’s Sons” a big spruce up after my first beta reader told me:

  • the first two chapters were difficult to follow
  • they did not flow well; things seemed disjointed and all over the place
  • they were not as polished as the level of work she’s come to expect from me (even in the draft phase)

I took those wonderfully constructive comments seriously, and as you know if you follow my blog, a big part of that seriousness meant overhauling the way I reference background info and events from previous books in those chapters. While that went a lot way to improving things (I hope!), I had more to do.

I’m working on the last couple of scenes now in the trouble chapters. My big problems there had less to do to flashback references than with the scene as a whole being disjointed. The issue wasn’t background info. It was dialogue feeling stilted, and comments not really flowing from the comments that came before.

Don’t hold your characters back. And don’t make them caricatures.

The problem was this: I had one character being too pushy in offering advice that another character didn’t ask for, so that it seemed like it came from the blue. The dialogue felt awkward and not at all realistic when I went over it again. I had let it go before because I wanted the character giving advice to come off as a bit smug and interjecting. Well, I did that a bit too well.

I was able to tone the dialogue down; instead of giving unsolicited advice and telling a girl he hardly knows she should go back home because she won’t be safe in Herezoth, the pushy character now asks why she would want to come to Herezoth in the first place. That flows much better. It doesn’t break the train of conversation based on the previous comments like the old dialogue did. It still shows he’s pushy, but it’s a more logical response to the scene as it unfolds on his part.

Best of all, the changes I made forced me to alter the girl’s response to show how spunky and daring and self-assured she can be when she feels defensive. I hadn’t shown that in this scene in previous drafts. This spunky response is much more in line with her personality than what I showed before. I love it!

So, I guess today’s lesson is: one of the most important aspects of editing is finding the line between allowing your characters to display their true selves and forcing them to do so to the point that they become caricatures of themselves. Knowing the character who was “advising” that woman the way I do, I realize now I was taking things too far to prove a point about his personality. I overdid it. Ironically, he was so pushy that his pushiness got lost in the sloppiness of the scene! (I also needed him to be speaking based on a misconception that the woman would then have to clarify. Editing today, I kept that misconception in play while toning down the man’s overreaction to it: success.)

I still need to read through the scene again tomorrow, to make sure it flows the way I’d like and doesn’t have typos before I send the first chapters back to my beta reader for a second opinion about whether they’re up to snuff now. But I think I’m well on my way to getting these early trouble moments taken care of. Yea!


4 responses to “Editing: the line between characterization and caricatures

  1. Good lesson, sounds like your editing’s coming along well. 🙂

  2. I suppose one can go overboard on characterization if it’s too forced. Thanks for sharing

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