Since I’m in the middle of book revisions, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to keep a story feeling fresh, to see it from different perspectives. This is difficult for me to do once I’ve read the story several times. I tend to get locked into my own version of the characters–I know why they act the way they do, I know how their dialog is supposed to be read and interpreted, and I know what they’re feeling when they have their inner struggles.
This knowing is also one of the biggest obstacles for me when it comes to revisions. I already know who these characters are, and each time I read through the story, that version of who they are gets reinforced. But my readers don’t have that inside knowledge, so I have to make sure that I communicate who my characters are with every tool I have available in the story. Because if I don’t, my readers might take away a very different impression of my protagonist or villain than the one I intended. I’ve said before this is why editors, crit partners, beta readers, etc. are so important. Even having just one person besides yourself read your story is helpful.
But what happens when it’s just me and the manuscript again? This is usually when I read the story out loud, which can be incredibly helpful, even if I lose my voice after a long session. Sometimes I go through and just follow one character arc from beginning to end, marking the parts in the book where they have personal revelations or struggles, when they’re at their weakest and strongest. How do they react to events in the story? How do they change as the story progresses? And sometimes I print out the book, put the red pen out of reach, and just settle in and read, trying to pretend that I plucked the book off a shelf and am experiencing it for the first time.
Whatever my method, even if I’ve done my job perfectly (go ahead and chuckle at that idea), readers still aren’t necessarily going to see my characters the way I do. They have their own lens through which they experience the story–part of the way they make it their own. And to be honest, I’m always fascinated to see what readers take away from a story. How it speaks to them, or doesn’t, is another part of the learning process.