40 Ways to Exploit Your Characters In Your First Draft

You’ve finally finished your first draft of the next magnificent, ground breaking novel. Give yourself some credit and congratulate yourself. Authoring a book isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it’s a task most people are unlikely to achieve.

Unfortunately for you, getting the story down on the proverbial piece of paper is only half the battle. Your first draft will be crap—there’s no getting around it. But according to Hemingway, that’s okay. It just means your WIP requires a lot of editing, much re-reading, and a lot of dust-collecting as it sits in a drawer for weeks to bake—you need to do this for a fresh editorial perspective.

If you’re doing the right thing by your work (and yourself as a writer), the time spent away from your completed draft is quality time you’ll spend researching. You’ll need to research basics like do I really capitalize that noun or not; what makes a verb an adverb; the oxford comma placement; and general narrative structure.

But most of all, you’ll want to scrutinize your writing faults.

He winked Her jaw dropped Her expression dulled Her face flushed
Lines etched his brow His smile faded He scowled He paled
Tears filled her eyes His jaw clenched She cocked her head Excessive makeup
The lack of eye contact She smiled half-heartedly The smile reached his eyes Beads of sweat formed on his face
He closed his eyes and sighed He gave a Cheshire Cat grin Her puffy face The smile dimpled his skin

More commonly than not is the writer’s habit of conveying dull facial expressions for their characters. “He looked/she looked” isn’t satisfactory, I’m afraid. The odd raise of the eyebrow is okay, but it isn’t really telling your reader about your character other than his mediocre pang of curiosity.

A reader’s experience is about the scepticism, vindictiveness or anger, and how it’s setting up a solid dialogue tag for a larger scene. Show them the traits, temperament, and fears. Dare to make your characters human.

To catch and hold a reader’s attention, your characters need to experience the life you’ve placed them in. Show off their embarrassment with crimson colour flushing their skin. Did their face harden as a result? Did recognition dawn on their face as terror overtook their fleeting glance while their side-kick’s face contorted and twisted in terror?

Or maybe their face simply went blank.

Broad smile Vein throbbed in neck Shaky smile Biting of lip
Whistling Snarling Blinking rapidly Swallowing hard
Sparkling eyes Sideways glance Darting glance Sweating
Winking Flared nostrils Pale features Glancing away
Laughter Sneering Trembling features Downward gaze

Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and Stephen King are masters of character expression (and great reads, too). Study the greats while you distance yourself from your draft. Get a fresh perspective for when you do your first line-by-line edit.

And remember, context is crucial for conveying expression and writing is always far from easy.

Needless to say, if you want your audience’s nose to flare with anticipation and not bore them with two-dimensional nonsense, then clench your jaw, nibble on your bottom lip and look heavenward as you contemplate future writing descriptors. Make your characters believable.


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