Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hidden Depths


Don't you love this poster?? We always hear that 90% of the iceberg is below the surface, but there's nothing quite like a picture to help us really see it.

While I've been in Revision Hell (thanks for the name for this oh-so-lovely place, Lola!) I've been thinking a bit about icebergs. And characters. And their backstories.

I try to imitate that 'berg - keep most of the info about the characters in my head and out of the novel. I firmly believe I've got to know a whole lot about my characters. I let them walk around in my head for a long time before I write. But the audience doesn't need to know everything.

There's a balance. I'm trying to achieve it. In my case, I have to add MORE, I've kept too much to myself.

I'm hoping to do a better job of finding that balance than these guys... :)

So, what's your story on your characters' histories? Do you have to go back in to add or delete?

122 comments:

  1. Love, love, LOVE the picture! Wow. It gives me the shivers, and I can't even express why.

    I am about to take a jaunt through my novel to see how much I need to take out. I agree, it's a balance, and sometimes I have to add, and sometimes take away. :)

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  2. Janet - I know! It's an amazing picture!

    I used to have to take out a lot, now it's less, but I have to add more. I've kind of over-reacted I think :)

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  3. I like characters that build like the story. Too much too soon and I become bored and lose attention.
    When I write I usually go back and pare things down.

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  4. Oh how adorable are those bay pooh characters!

    I have to do a bit of both...delete some here, add some there, move this back there, move that forward. Fester fester fester.

    Every single facet of writing interesting fiction is a balancing act.

    I have faith you are making good decisions. I love your writing style. (the small passage I was lucky to read)

    I'm still slogging through the RH, too. *sigh*

    Have a wonderful rest of your weekend, Jemi. :)
    Love,
    Lola

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  5. Oops..BABY pooh characters. Sorry. *blushes* They're cuteness.

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  6. Mary - me too! I thought I'd done a pretty good job, but I get comments like, "I want MORE on this character..." and "Could we get a flashback to show this..." So back in I go! :)

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  7. Thanks Lola! I really hope I'm making the right decisions. I do know it's taking me forever! Although real life has been nutso lately (even more than usual) so I haven't had much time either. :)

    I love Pooh in all his forms, but baby Pooh is perfection :)

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  8. Beautiful poster and thoughts.

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  9. Thanks Terra! It's been a tough week and the poster made me feel better :)

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  10. I am rewriting as well!! So glad that there are a lot of us out there. My characters also need frequent revisions. I try to reveal things about them as it is relevant to the story but this also leads to a lot of rewriting and adding later on. Sigh. GOOD LUCK with the revisions!!

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  11. Saumya - it's so good to know I'm not alone!! Revision Hell can be a sad and lonely place :)

    Thanks and good luck with yours - we can do it!

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  12. Awesome photo. Doesn't make one stop and think about what is under the surface. Good luck with RH, I know you'll ace it in no time.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  13. Loved the iceberg photo! Revisions are the time to go back and add layers to our characters. :) Have a great weekend!

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  14. Mason - I love the photo too! Thanks! I'm hoping to ace it - but it won't be any time soon :)

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  15. Thanks Sharon - I like the idea of adding layers, but it's more complex than I expected. It is taking me a looooooong time!

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  16. That poster is brilliant!

    Personally I like to go back over my character history later. Works better for me that way. :)

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  17. Elle - thanks! I love it too :)

    It is fun to start again with the characters - we know them so much better by the time we finish the book :)

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  18. I've introduced tidbits here and there but something I'm doing is writing some short stories I'll be posting on my website and other places with small background stories. I've had some readers tell me how much they like some of my secondary characters and this has inspired me.

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  19. Oh, I LOVE that poster! And I know what you mean. I think I'll end up having to move the backstory parts around, and maybe take a tiny bit out. We'll see. But I'll definitely have to move it around.

    :-P

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  20. Susan - That's a great idea! Some of the 2ndary characters are so much fun to write. I love the thought of giving them more space :)

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  21. Ishta - I love it too! :)

    I'm not a big fan of backstory - I like tidbits here and there to let me learn the character as I go. But apparently it's a little sparse so I have to fix it up!

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  22. The ice berg picture is amazing. As far as back story, I have journals full of character back story. Like you said a good bit of it is just for me.

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  23. Anita - thanks! I thought it was incredible when I saw it too :)

    I don't write out too much, but I do know a LOT more than what goes in the story. It's just knowing which bits to add in :)

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  24. Awesome picture. Kind of scary too. But then, so is revealing too much (or too little) about our characters. When I started my first novel, I wrote way too much, but I've since reformed. Now, most of my time is spent getting it all to flow - not as easy as it sounds. :)

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  25. VR - I agree - I wouldn't want to be captaining a ship in the vicinity! :)

    I poured WAY too much into my first novel too. Now I tend to put in too little. One day I'll get that balance down pat!

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  26. Wow! What an awesome image. So many paralleles we can draw from this. Since my story is a trilogy, my characters will evolve over the first two books. Much is given in the first, the rest in the second. You don't want to wait too long to reveal intimate characteristics about people. Its not fair to the reader.

    Stephen Tremp

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  27. Great post! I absolutely love that poster. Way cool! Gah, revision hell, boy do I know it. I'm stopping to do NaNo, then right back to it.

    That's a good point though to know more about your character than what you write ;o)

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  28. I usually have to write more too. I have the understanding of the characters in my head but that doesn't help my readers does it. So I have to show more of the iceberg.

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  29. I love that iceberg pic!! Oh and the Winnie the Pooh one too - awwww!

    I've never really thought of my characters in that way but yes - I guess what I put on paper is only like 20 per cent of what I keep in my head about them. I guess for me doing that makes them very real to me - keeps them 4 dimenensional and I would hope makes them believable on paper!

    Great post! Good luck with your RH!!! Take care
    x

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  30. Now I want to know how they managed to take that photo of the iceberg! Not unlike how I want to know how people manage to make "iceberg characters" - it's a fine balance indeed, knowing what to jot down and what to leave between the lines... Good luck!

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  31. Stephen - true. I don't like finding out surprises late in the books. I just didn't plan on revealing so much at all. :)

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  32. Erica - thanks! I love that poster too. :)

    I still haven't completely decided about NaNo yet. I'd really like to just push through with this one, but starting something new is always fun too.

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  33. Karen - exactly! I know I'm overcompensating because I used to pour everything into the novel :) Now I've got to find that balance.

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  34. Old Kitty - thanks! I hadn't planned on revealing some of the stuff at all, but it looks like I'm keeping too much to myself :)

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  35. Thanks Cruella! I'm really hoping to find that balance. I've been way too far on both ends, so I just have to keep working at it! :)

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  36. Wonderful picture and post,

    Have a good Sunday,.

    Yvonne.

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  37. That is a beautiful photo. And photos may be all we soon have. About revision hell....I'm there too. I had to go back and delete some history because who besides Steven King can ramble on for 500 pages? I know now that I always give up too much information. I'm not giving my readers enough credit to follow the dots.

    It is a fine line between knowing what your readers need to know and what they don't need to know. Joseph Coulson is a master at knowing what his readers don't need to know. I just finished OF SOUND AND WATER and that man is a genius at holding back information. I felt like Hansel and Gretal, following the crumbs to come to the conclusion. And concludes he does. An ending that makes you smile and sigh.

    Revision and editing is a challenge, yet satisfying in a perverted way. Or maybe I'm just a word pervert. You'll get there. How can you not??

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  38. Thanks Yvonne! I love the photo :) Hope you have a relaxing weekend too!

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  39. Yvonne - that's exactly what I did with my previous novel! I think I'm overcompensating with this one :)

    LOL - I get that same sense of satisfaction - but it's more when I'm on a word slashing mission! This is harder, so I think I'll feel even better. I hope! Thanks :)

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  40. I create character profiles before I start writing and add more details as I write.

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  41. I like character sketches but tend to do them AFTER a write a story rather than before. I guess you'd call that off-balance! Best wishes with the rest of your revisions. I'm sure hell will turn up to heaven soon.

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  42. Alex - a lot of people do those character sketches. I don't do a lot on paper - just a few major points. I do like to reveal slowly too though. :)

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  43. Lynn - that's a good idea! I do most of my character creation/development in bed when I'm supposed to be sleeping :)

    I hope you're right!!

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  44. The picture is breathtaking... and eye opening isn't it?? It's amazing to see something so beautiful and get the full picture, truly understand what it fully is!

    As for my characters history, I honestly just slowly start to understand them, go with what I know, the basics and with each word I write I start to understand my character while they understand themselves... it's beautiful, however it does require more revisions with each novel I write. Never gets easier for me, but I wouldn't change the system!

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  45. Hi Jemi! I usually add in waaaay toooo much about the characters (in a massive info dump - ah!), then end up taking it all out again in the next draft. That's ok though because it really helps me get to know the characters!

    Good luck with revision hell...!

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  46. Jen - I totally agree - the picture really makes me think!

    I like getting to know my characters better as I go along too. I like when they surprise me with new quirks to their personalities as we move forward :)

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  47. Talli - That's exactly what I did with my previous ms. WAY too much info. I guess I overcompensated this time! :)

    Thanks - I think I'm going to need it!

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  48. Ooh, I'm your 300th follower, congrats to you!

    I tend to have to go back and weed things out--I think while I'm writing I (a) worry that the reader won't get it (I should have more faith) and (b) work things out a little as I go, and sometimes write it to achieve it.

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  49. Thanks Amie!! I appreciate the follow :)

    I'm getting better at trusting the reader - but apparently I expect a little much! I'll keep working at it. :)

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  50. I absolutely love that picture. Everytime I see it I stare in amazement. Amazing! And really, there's no better analogy for writing and characters than that of the iceberg. Goodluck!!!

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  51. Kimberly - me too! It's a gorgeous!

    Thanks for the luck. I really need it :)

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  52. That is an amazing photo Jemi. Revision Hell, LOL -- good luck with that one :-)

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  53. Agnes - thanks! I'm not surprised you like it! You have such a wondeful photographer's eye :)

    Thanks for your best wishes, I'm going to need them :)

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  54. I really do some in-depth outlines, sometimes year-by-year of what happened before and during the story.

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  55. I absolutely love that picture! It always gives me shivers :)

    Aww.. good luck with your editing! I hope all goes well.

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  56. I think that sometimes I have to add--the motivation sometimes isn't as clear to the reader as it is to me (because it's in my head, not on the paper!:) )

    Good luck with your revision hell!

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  57. I like finding out a character bit by bit, not in an info dump. I try to lay out my characters beforehand, but even I am sometimes surprised.

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  58. When I get an idea for backstory I just dump it all in at once in my first draft, but in my edit I break it up and disperse it throughout the MS. Revision can be a bit of drag, hope yours picks up :-)

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  59. That picture is a great way to illustrate backstory with our characters! During the first draft, I thought I knew my characters, but now that I'm in Revision Hell I've discovered even more stuff about them. It makes things so much more interesting:)

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  60. Oh, that poster is absolutely gorgeous!

    I tend to hold back too much because of my fear of "info-dumping" -- so chances are, I'll have to go back to add in little tidbits here and there.

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  61. Diane - good idea! I can see how a timeline background would be helpful. Especially when you have so many overlapping characters!

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  62. Writing Nut - Thanks! I hope it goes well too. I'm working on report cards now so everything else is on the backburner. :) Hope to get back to it soon!

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  63. Elizabeth - exactly!! I know these things and I apparently keep forgetting to share! :)

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  64. Helen - I'm the same. Info dumps drive me batty and I sometimes just stop reading the book. But I think I overcompensated this time :)

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  65. Charmaine - me too! I think once I have a bit more time things will move more quickly. :) I think next time I'll swing back to the 'more' side of the scale. I find taking out much easier than adding in!

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  66. Melissa - it sure does! Sometimes I wish it wasn't quite so interesting!! :)

    Good luck in your corner of RH - maybe we could meet with Lola in the middle for lemonade! :)

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  67. Love that poster...
    I've been on intensive revision for the past 4 months! Think I'm a little insane right now... :\

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  68. Emy - that's exactly it! I kept too much out and figuring out where to put what is not as easy as I'd hoped! :)

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  69. Michelle - thanks! It's such a gorgeous image!

    I'm SO with you - revisions can drive me completely around the bend too. Maybe we can share a room if we get locked up! :)

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  70. Oh that iceberg feels like it's lurking! Such hidden strength (and danger).
    As for backstory, the more the author knows the better but the reader only needs to believe the character so it's more a matter of being true to what you know. (I think).
    I'm in Revision Hell's deepest pit, because I have to rewrite huge chunks to avoid having similarities to another book just released. *pulls hair*

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  71. Tricia - I know! Isn't it great! :)

    That's a great way to explain it Tricia! I completely agree.

    That's SO frustrating! I never even considered that happening. It must be such a pain to change because of someone else's work! Good luck!

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  72. In the past when I didn't write up full outlines and didn't think about my characters until I wrote the novel, I often had to go back and work out the backstory of the characters. I often had to change it too.

    I love the iceberg: just becuase we know something about a character doesn't mean we have to put it in the story.

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  73. Lynda - I love the 'berg too! :)

    I'm too much a pantster to outline! I do know the ending scene, but I want to have surprises getting there! :)

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  74. I love that picture.

    When I go back during revisions it's to add layers of subplots and minor characters which add depth to the main character and main plotline.

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  75. Medeia - Me too - it's so beautiful!

    That's kind of what I'm aiming to do. It isn't easy! One small changes influences so many other things... But I'm hoping my subconscious is working on it while I'm working on report cards! :)

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  76. That is a gorgeous picture. I could stare at it for hours.

    Character histories. Ugh. Always deleting and adding new stuff. The stuff I thought I knew about the character always changes in the revision.

    Yeah, revision hell. That's it!

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  77. Fantastic picture Jemi! I wind up generally doing a bit of both. Take away from some areas and add to others. I just finished my YA contemporary novel. I'm going to let it marinate during NaNo and then hit it for revisions, etc.

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  78. Very powerful poster picture! Loved it!

    I don't write like you do, yet... :-), however I do the same thing with some of my 'deeper' post!

    Re-write, move around, edit..edit..edit. Sometimes I spend days on one post I think is or can be powerful or insightful to someone.

    Have a Wonderful new week!
    Hugs,
    Coreen

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  79. Oh, man, Jemi! I think you've hit upon my weakest link in my writing. I either tell and show too little or too much about my characters and have yet to find the right concoction. Help!

    Right now, in my own revision hell, I'm having daily frustrations at either a) my character trait redundancies or b) my lack of explaining the character.

    Thanks for telling me I'm not alone! (And if you find a good way to overcome this difficulty, I'd love to hear it.)

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  80. I think it's best to just tell the readers what they need to know about a character and not include details that will distract--unless the distraction is somehow pertinent to telling the story. Too much clutter can only muddle the story.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  81. That is such a fantastic picture. Yes, we all heard that about icebergs, but this really beings the truth home.

    And while I am nowhere close to revision hell, I do know that I know more about my characters, than actually gets captured on the pages.

    All the best.

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  82. Incredible picture and loved the way you used it to represent the balance between characters and their backstories. It is a diffocult balancing act. Too much and the action stalls. Too little and the reader doesn't understand the characters motivation.

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  83. Karen - I love the photo too!

    I'm not actually changing too much about the histories, just inserting it differently. I only have 1 big thing to switch up. :)

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  84. Lisa - I think letting it marinate during NaNo is an excellent piece of advice! I need distance before I attack a piece for editing! :)

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  85. Coreen - the poster is awesome!

    If you're doing that kind of editing for your posts, you'll love writing! It becomes an obsession :)

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  86. Jackee - It's always great to know we're not alone. I've been swinging on a pendulum between too much and not enough. It's such a tough call.

    If I think of any miracle cures, you'll be the first to know!

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  87. Lee - that's exactly how I feel! I don't like a lot of clutter. But I've apparently pared it down a little far!

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  88. Rayna - It's funny how we all think of writerly topics when we look at regular things. I definitely see the world differently! :)

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  89. Ellie - that's it exactly! Finding that balance isn't easy, but I think I'm getting closer. :) Thanks for dropping by!

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  90. Jemi, lovely photo and great point! I'm just checking in after a long hiatus. Great to read your post.

    Thank you! that rebel, Olivia

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  91. What an amazing picture! I've never seen anything like that before. I tend to be very sparse on the rough draft, so I usually need to add stuff in, not take it out.

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  92. Olivia - I love that photo too! Nice to see you again :)

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  93. Susan - I know - it is such a gorgeous photo!! I'm finding adding in pretty hard - I found it much easier to take out! One day I'll find the balance :)

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  94. ooh, great shot of the berg! I ALWAYS have to go back and add. My first drafts are thin little wisps of things.

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  95. Ah, so you're down here with me. Nice to have company :)

    I found that almost all the comments my crit partners made could be traced back to me not adding enough of what I know about the characters into the book. So I guess we have that in common.

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  96. I'm like you, Jemi, in that I let my characters walk and talk in my head long enough that I know their story well. Then I actually write it. I tend to lack details on my first draft, it's kind of a bare bones manuscript, but then I go back and fill in more information, including character descriptions.

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  97. Terry - that makes me feel better! I'm finding the adding in stuff hard, but so many of you successful folks do it! I'll keep plugging away. :)

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  98. Tara - Hello! Nice to have company down here! :)

    I definitely have to add in - and there are changes to make too, so it's all just taking a lot of time! Hopefully I'll get there.

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  99. Shelley - I thought adding in would be easier, but I'm finding it harder. I really have to work on finding that balance! Hopefully I'll have more time soon! :)

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  100. That is an amazing picture!
    I think I have a balance of what's in my head and what's on paper. Sometimes I even think I need to add more to the story about the character!

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  101. I love that picture. It's funny, I've seen it before but never attributed it to my writing. I am even more attracted to it now. Thank you! =)

    To answer your question - I had to remove a lot of backstory from my first draft.

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  102. Kelly - I love the 'berg!

    That's exactly what I'm aiming for - a balance! I'm finding it hard to add things in, but I'm getting better! :)

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  103. Thanks Shannon! Any time! Strangely I think a lot of the time we see things different that 'regular' people!

    I liked removing backstory better than adding it in!! I really need to find that balance :)

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  104. Love the pictures! My current wip will end up requiring me to add. Not so much for the histories of each character, but because of the present stuff. I tried to be a little too sparse (so my friend has told me). Good luck!

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  105. Sometimes I have to go back and add and delete things depending on what ends up being important. I can see a lot of non important stuff sometimes on my last read through.

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  106. Kimberly - thanks! I love them too! I've got a bit of both to add - and some to fix! We'll see how it goese :)

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  107. Laura - my previous ms was way too wordy and descriptive - this one doesn't have enough - gotta find that balance. :)

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  108. Awesome picture! Your'e right - there's nothing like seeing it.

    I used to say too much. Now I say too little and layer as I go and even during the revision stage. The more I get to know my characters as I write, the more dimensional I can make them later.

    If you get a chance, stop by my blog "Substitute Teacher's Saga". From 10/28-11/1 I'm hosting a Halloween Haunting. There are prizes!

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  109. What so impressive photograph, Jemi!
    I really love it.

    all the best,
    nensa

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  110. I always discover things about my character as I write the first draft - no matter how well I know them! But yes, you don't need their whole life's stories - only the stuff that's important to the book!

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  111. Ooh - sorry - of course the more interesting bits you add, the more depth your character has...

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  112. Whoa. VERY cool picture...

    Most time with my characters I end up adding a history. :)

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  113. I always have to go back in and add. I'm a "skinny" writer to begin with, and I always have to flesh everything out on the second pass.

    Good luck in hell! Er, revisions!

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  114. Theresa - I love that photo - it blows my mind! :) I find taking out easier than putting in.

    It's been crazy busy - I'll pop by on the weekend!

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  115. Thanks Nensa - I love that photo! I'd like to get it in a photo for my classroom :)

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  116. Lisa Gail - you're so right - it's the little tidbits of depth that make the characters most real. And if we don't really know them, we can't know those tidbits - or they won't make sense!

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  117. Jennifer - thanks! I just can't start until I know the characters. But I don't write anything down - and most of what I know has nothing to do with the story!

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  118. Thanks Elana - I think that would describe me at the moment. But I've always written very heavy drafts (before I knew anything about writing!!). I don't like reading 'thick' stuff, but I think I went too skinny!

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  119. I like this visual of an iceberg.
    Depending on whether I'm writing fiction or non-fiction, I may have to go back & add things if non-fiction as I have to make sure all the facts are there. With fiction, it can vary. When novelizing an actual story, I had to remove a lot of extra scenes.

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  120. Notes - It is a beautiful visual, isn't it? :)

    I've swung both ways on the pendulum - I'm hoping to find more of a balance next time! :)

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  121. Oh, MYYYY! There are a zillion comments here...to a fabulous post and a fantastic photo!

    Hmmm. My characters are too deep! I go on and on and on and right now am cutting like crazy to meet a deadline...and word count!
    Blessings, Patti

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  122. Patti - thanks! :) I do have lots of great blog buddies!

    That was the problem in my first ms. This time I went the other way! I really, really want to find that balance :)

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