Character Editing

This is something different from character development. What I refer to here is the act of making certain each character is unique, but also that each character is described uniquely. So it’s more about what the author and narrator have done than what the character has done.

In my spreadsheets I like to make sure I describe what every character is wearing the first time we see them. What color is their hair? What marks them as different? Do they have unique mannerisms. I put all of that in my spreadsheet. When were they born? Who are they related to? What is their secret? They each have a dossier!

In my timeline notes I mark the major events of their lives. You don’t want to refer to John’s gender re-assignment surgery three years before he became Juanita!

The draft I am working on right now is partly about making sure every character gets an appropriate introduction and description.


The reason I list inspiration as a step in the writing process is that, as a much younger person many decades ago, all of my stories came and went through the same thing: my ego. So now I try to pay attention more to the ways people do things. I’m not saying you should watch every sci-fi film or read every sci-fi book before you write your own sci-fi story. But it’s important to pay attention to how the real world works in order to find wisdom and little jewels others might miss.

One example of this was a bird I saw at work once, maybe three years ago. It might have been a robin or a starling. There’s this corner of the building where the black windows make a nook on the north side, about halfway from center to the east side of the building. You can see inside the building there, but I can understand how a bird could get confused. It started trying to fly into the window. Why it wanted to visit Cubeland, I don’t know. But it kept flying into this window, maybe five times before it flew back away from the building.

This scene is going into one of my future novels because it got me thinking about how human beings do the same stupid stuff over and over, hoping the results will change one day. They tend not to change. Flying into a window generally will not get you where you want to go, especially if you’re a bird.

So I watch and listen, and allow things to inspire me as I write. I don’t know everything. Don’t tell my wife I said that.


I think most writers prefer composition to planning or editing or marketing. Just sit down and write, right? For me, it’s important to get into an environment where I am alone. Or if not alone, it’s important to be in a place where no one around me is talking or listening to music or watching Dexter on Netflix. So I prefer to write at night when the kids are asleep, or during the school day. I have to have a tanker of coffee. And I have found that I write better, I’m more productive, when I use my little Netbook. It’s slow. It’s like molasses on the internet. And that’s great because I don’t need the distraction of the internet. If I’m away somewhere, Microsoft Word and Excel are all I have open. So I settle in, and just write.

I like to start by reading what I wrote the day before, remind me where I was. Then read over my outline for that chapter, so where I’m going. Then I start a conversation with the characters. “This is your situation. What will you do? What is true to your nature? You don’t know about the garbage you’re about to run into, but how might you handle it when you do?” I think of people who inspire me, good or bad. What would they do? I try not to imagine myself in the conflict because then all of my stories would be the same. And since most of us think we’re pretty reasonable creatures (most of us are wrong), all my stories would be boring.

If the chapter is really funny, or really sad, or loaded with some other kind of syrup, I try to to throw some other spices into it. Can you have a blooper at a funeral? An argument? Who wants to read about a normal funeral, anyway? They’re sad and quiet. Can your scene about a funeral be more awe-inspiring or respectfully funny?

I’m pleased if I write 1,000 words a day, excited if it’s 1,500, and exhausted if it’s 2,000.


Some of the writers I chat with in Writer’s Cafe asked recently how well dictation software works for writing novels. I would never try that, as the software could never understand the difference between what I’m saying and what I’m meaning, in my opinion. But I have “Dragon Naturally Speaking,” and I think it could be useful for the first step I take in novel writing, which is Concept.

There’s no structure to the concept stage. It’s just about blurting out everything that comes into my head about a story. Getting it all down so I don’t forget. Last night I was brushing my teeth when I got a great idea for how to solve the problem of travelling to planets in other star systems. So I ran back to the computer and typed in the idea. Normally I apply this kind of idea to an existing story idea. I looked to see if I had any stories about travelling to other planets, so I could use this idea as the means to travel there. But I don’t have any stories about people going to other planets. So I saved it as a text document in the folder for a sci-fi epic I plan to write one day.

The concept stage can be a couple of paragraphs or a couple of pages. It’s rarely longer than that. If I read my notes back to someone, they should make sense, but maybe not a lot.

I was talking to my oldest son a few years ago about story writing, structure, Act I, Act II, Act III. It was a 300 mile drive, so we had lots of time to hammer things out. We started with a silly concept idea. What if you had a big spill of oil or grease in your kitchen or garage, and you poured kitty litter all over to absorb the goo, and from this you got a monster that tried to eat your family? So we went over what the family might be like, what the monster’s motivation might be, and how this would create conflict for the family. Who changes and who stays the same? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? What if the monster turned out to be the good guy? It was a lot of fun.

Sometimes two or three concepts can be attached to the same story. Sometimes a new concept requires a new folder. Some of these come from dreams I have. Some come to me when I’m out walking, or cooking dinner, or washing dishes. They almost never happen when I’m sitting at the computer, trying to think up something new.

The key is to write them down, even if they’re silly. If you decide later the idea was stupid, it’s easy to hit delete.

The Process of Writing a Novel

Sometimes blog posts are meant to communicate something to one’s readers. But today’s post is more a note to self. But go ahead and read along anyway.

Now that I have the draft completed of my work in progress, the next step is editing. I don’t dislike editing. I just don’t love it. There’s something thrilling about composing new material, like watching your kid do something they’ve never done before, like watching the light go on in their head. Editing is more like correcting their manners or bad behavior, or changing a diaper.

So as a reminder to myself, and a diversion from the grueling editing I get to do now, I have listed below the steps I take in novel writing. Each day I’ll post a paragraph or two on one of these subjects, and link them all back here, too, in case anyone thinks it is/was useful.






Character Editing

Line Editing

Beta Testing

Self-Publishing/Self-Marketing or Marketing to Agents

Paperback Writer

The paperback version of my new novel Fugue in C Minor is finally available for sale! Click on this hyperlink to see it at It’s also at

Help for Self-Published Authors

Joined the Kindle Boards today so I can talk with other writers in the Writer’s Cafe’. It’s good to see who is making money, who is just starting out, and who is mentoring others.