Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Revelation

I was reading Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, which I just purchased from Borders. (*sniff*)

I just finished chapter two, about Characters. Apparently, Characters must have Wit, Grit, and IT.

For instance, you want your character to have GRIT... like "Steve" in Captain America. Steve is a scrawny, skinny young man determined to enlist in the army, but at every turn (and despite his many aliases) he is frustrated by his lengthy list of illnesses, medicines and, of course, size. That doesn't prevent him from facing off bullies and proving himself willing to sacrifice himself in order to save his friends.

Next, you want your character to have WIT. On this one I'll take an example from Tony Stark, one of my more favourite superheroes. (Can you tell I've been into superhero shows recently?) There's a bit where Pepper tells him that his plane was scheduled to leave an hour and a half ago, and he says, "It's funny, I thought with it being my plane and all that it would just wait for me." How can you not love that line?

Last, you want your character to have IT. IT is that personal magnetism that draws you to the character. If you have read the story, or seen the movie Flipped, you'll see that Julianna Baker, one of the protagonists of this story has the IT quality. The grandfather of Bryce Loski, the second protagonist of the story who dislikes Julianna, explains Juli's character as this: "Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss; but every once in a while, you find someone who's iridescent, and once you do, nothing will ever compare." That's what you're looking to give your character. IT.

I was reading this chapter, and it was as though a light bulb went off in my head. I suddenly realised I HAD to go back to my WIP and change the first few chapters, to make it more compelling, and give the character a reason for going to the place where all the action happens. I had to go back and reacquaint myself with my character and see if she had the IT quality.

Don't you love enjoy hate find it challenging when you get a revelation like that? It's exciting while at the same time being, "Oh no! I have to rewrite the first three chapters!"

Happy editing... for me.

God bless.


  1. Good luck with your revisions, Cat. Yes, it's frustrating to have to rewrite three chapters, but it's also a good thing that you realized it now. In the end, you'll be happy you did it.

  2. Great post! I love James Scott Bell and how his books do challenge us to become better writers. And yes, it is exciting and frustrating at the same time!

  3. Thanks Kelly. Yup, it was a "Ding!" moment for me for sure.

    Lara, I really love James Scott Bell. He writes so concisely that it's a joy to read his how-to books. I'm glad you liked the post.

  4. Oh no I've rewritten the first three chapters at least ten times. NOOOOO! LOL

  5. Loved this post, Cat. You're right about characters they are so important. If you don't get them right it throws the entire story out of whack. And it's frustrating and funny when you purchase a book on the craft of writing and you then have to go back to that WIP you've editing 500 times already and do more tweaking. LOL It's a sad and a happy moment. LOL Good luck with your edits.

  6. Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss; but every once in a while, you find someone who's iridescent, and once you do, nothing will ever compare.

    What a fantastic line. I'm terrible at editing my own work. It's something I need to work on...

  7. "Flipped" is absolutely one of the best films I've watched. The honesty in its storytelling is ... iridescent. =) I love wit in a hero, too, even if that hero is the quiet, somewhat reserved sort. Have fun revising, Cat!

  8. Grit. Wit and - IT. And the last one? It's a right bugger, it is :-).

    Why do I say that? Well, because (to a degree), I think we can know that we've shown the first two. The third one is a bit like, if I may step so far to the risque, great sex. You only know about it after it's happened. Because it's different for each reader. You can plan for it, but you only know if you've achieved it after the reader has found it. Has connected.

    With Grit, we want to show how the hero (or heroine) reacts to and withstands adversity. Which is interesting. Because, to a degree, heroines (or heroes) are extra-ordinary. But the more extraordinary they are, the less they need Grit. Because Grit comes from their 'ordinary' coping. One of the problems with Superman is that he's, well, Super. He can be harmed or damaged by so little that he shows no Grit going against those challenges.

    Shamelessly self advertising (I know. I'm a Bad Person(tm)) I posted a blog entry on a very similar theme ( Grit is, I think, why Tony Stark has his weak heart. Why they had to give Superman his kryptonite. Indeed, one of the weaknesses of Captain America(for me at least) is that he has so little of the 'ordinary' that his Grit is diminished (again, perhaps only for me :-P).

    In 'A Comedy of Terrors', Segorian is so ordinary, nobody can even remember what he looks like. No magic, no super strength. So when the Queen sends him off to look into a report of a dragon:

    "Queen Sonea gave me a rather nice horse. A brave and swift charger, trained in all the ways of battle. As the rocks of the Blackrock mountains (no. They weren’t black. They were rock coloured. No. I don’t know why the mountains were called that either) rose around me, I found myself wishing the horse was much slower, and rather more cowardice-plod-slowly-in-the-opposite-direction trained."

    ... off he goes. Not because he has mighty magic, or super strength. Because that's what you do when the Queen is fresh out of heroes and you're all she has left. It's what fire-fighters, soldiers, police officers and farmers looking at their last field torn to shreds by the latest storm do every day. It's what makes ordinary folk extra-ordinary. It's Grit.

    That ordinary is also what, I think makes part of the IT. It's the ordinary we can recognise in those extra-ordinary heroes that lets us connect as readers. Let's us be a part of them and them be a part of us.

    Or at least, that's my poor two cents :-).

    Oh. And I seem to have missed Wit. I'll stay shameless, if I may, and offer one more quote:

    "It looked exactly like a strange shaped cloud would look if the strange shaped cloud looked nothing like a cloud and exactly like a big scaly thing nearly the size of a house. With a lot more big, spiky claws than my one big, spiky stick. I had a sudden and extreme case of spiky-stick-envy."

    As someone once said. Only an Idiot would fight a dragon... :-).

  9. Eve, LOL!

    Dawn, thanks for the luck. I'm hoping it's not quite so daunting as it looks. :)

    Isn't that a gorgeous line, Jennifer? I love it!

  10. Claudine, I surprised myself by loving it a lot too. I liked the back-and-forth POV, and the od-fashioned feel to it.

    Graeme, very interesting. I liked that. I loved your last line, too. Hurray for the idiot! :)

  11. I agree that it creates work, Cat, but I also know that it's that constant awareness of what a story needs (or could use) that can really make it sing. I think it's much more frustrating to be stuck in a story and never have a clue about what changes need to be made.

    Not that I speak from experience or anything ... ;-)

    Love your Twitter badge by the way! The cute little guy keeps following me around.

  12. I like my Twitter badge, too. Isn't he cute? My little bird. :)

  13. Happy editing, Cat! It's good when those revelations come before you send your work to the publisher, instead of after. :)

  14. Thanks, Angel. I hope the revisions turn out well. So far, they seem to be!


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