Characters: Giving Readers What They Want

Blog 80 imageIn “Thoughts on Writing”, I’ve been posting about issues I’m grappling with as I rewrite my third book. A big focus of the rewrite is character development, which is partly based on comments of several readers on the prior draft. Today’s issue: how far do I go to respond to those comments?

Some writers advise not to use beta readers at all. Stand tall and believe in your book, they say. It makes me wonder what they do with comments about characters they get from their editor(s). At the other extreme, I’ve heard of writers who try to incorporate all comments from editors and beta readers except where they conflict. Their books are almost crowd-sourced and thus, perhaps the thinking goes, guaranteed to please all.

I treat my books as my own but do pay attention to what my beta readers say about my characters. Here are the guidelines I (currently) use for those comments.

Fix or explain the inconsistencies. If a beta reader finds an inconsistency in the history or preferences of one of my characters, I obviously fix that. However, there might be a good explanation for other inconsistencies. For example,a character who reacts differently to similar situations might do so because of an epiphany or personal growth. Or I might have screwed up and should make the reactions conform.

Watch for the same comment from several readers. I’ve posted this before, but if more than one reader identifies the same issue with a character, I usually try to resolve the issue.

A character’s depth can be improved. I aim to make my key characters rounded. When I’m told that a character is flat or superficial, I almost always work to improve that.

Consider what to do if the character, a trait or an action is unbelievable. I work hard to understand a comment along these lines. I often talk to the beta reader for more input. Sometimes I make changes and sometimes I don’t.

Consider what to do if the character’s not likeable. This is a tough one. In The Case for Killing and False Guilt, quite a few characters are troubled or irritating. Often, I’ve resisted change and told myself that, yes, those were the characters I wanted. In the third book, I’m interested in creating some key characters who readers would like to spend time with, even if they’re flawed. So I’m paying more attention to comments regarding likeability.

Focus hard on comments about characters with backgrounds different than mine. An excellent example for me is writing female characters. My goal is for them to be authentic and I ask my female beta readers to help with that.

Drop humour that’s flopping. What I find funny others often don’t. If the humour of one of my characters is failing, I get rid of it. No matter how much I laugh at it.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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