So now, let’s see which version of my character study was better. For those just joining, I left my laptop at TSA and on it was a writing assignment due the same day. Being an exemplary student, I quickly rewrote my homework before going to class, thus giving me an opportunity to compare my careful writing process and my quick rewrite process: something I would never do if the circumstances didn’t require it. Check out my posts about the slapdash version 2 and the original version 1 if you want to make your own judgement.
I think both versions have merit, but the hastily written version 2 is better. Why? Well at a high level, I have realized that I lose my voice when I edit. It’s something that I’ve been peripherally aware of for awhile, but this proves my process of making sure I vary sentence structure, use correct verb tense, and nitpick punctuation sucks the soul out of my writing. Now I wish that meant that I could just stop doing all that, but unfortunately that would leave behind basic issues making me look like a hack. So instead, I think I’m going to have to add a final round of editing to my work to reinsert the soul. Mayday, mayday! Soul reinsertion, stat! No idea how I’m going to pull that off, but this experiment gives me hope that such a process will work, because remember, I wrote the better draft second.
I’m going to start with what I like more about version 2, and then highlight what I liked better from version 1. If I was going to use this for something I’d make a mashup of the two and create perfection, but since it’s just an exercise I’ll probably skip that step. I mean, I got assigned new homework this week that I’ve got to get started on!
Why is version 2 better?
The guy has a voice. He is “missunderstood and undervalued.” His mom says he lacks “get up and go.” He got fired for “lack of initiative.” He asked the heart attack victim, “What do you want me to do?” He was told, “You saved this guys’s life, you are a hero.” (Shockingly that last quote is exactly the same in both versions.) The simple addition of real words convey the essence of him: showing not telling, right? I tried to do that in the first version by giving the guy a name, but he didn’t really need a name. He needed a soul.
The first three paragraphs are all better in the second version because of the good mix of showing and telling. Also, the character displays better internal conflict.
They wanted me to take some vague idea and magically turn it into something they wanted. If they weren’t so lazy I would be more effective, but I learned that people don’t want that kind of feedback.
is way better than
What they wanted was some person who was willing to go off and waste time solving vague problems because my bosses were too lazy to define what they really wanted, but I probably shouldn’t have told them that.
Let me tell you, that bottom one is totally me the writer deciding, “Oh, it is time for a long complex sentence now.” Ugh. It’s terrible. I also love the “magically” reference in the top version. It convey’s this guy’s frustration. He does not know how to take squishy ideas and turn them into reality, so it must be magic.
The hackathon paragraphs are where version 1 is better, until you get the the old guy’s collapse, then comes the sentence that makes version 2 the total winner. It’s the point that out-loud laughs occurred, which is better than gold for any writer.
Crouching next to him I asked, “What do you want me to do?” but he didn’t answer.
I mean, the guy clutched his chest and collapsed and this dingbat is so incapable of self motivation that he asks an unconscious body what to do. So much better than,
Crouching down next to the guy I asked what he needed, but he wasn’t able to answer.
Showing versus telling again. I bet version 1 wouldn’t have made people laugh. It doesn’t have the same impact.
For the character study, I think the version 2 ending is better, because it’s an actual ending. However, if I was going to use this for something else, version 1 leaves the story with somewhere to go.
Why is version 1 better?
In the first version I liked a few things better. I liked my consistent use of “clarity” and think that “total clarity” is more representative of what the character is looking for than “perfect clarity.” Also, I was inconsistent in my use of “clarity” in version 2. This is the most important value to my character so I like the cleaner presentation.
A few lines stood out as better in version 1 than version 2.
Life is made up of vague requests and other people spend their energy chasing after the right problem.
Is better than
People waste a great deal of time chasing after elusive requests. It’s more efficient to spend time really understanding what someone wants before you go into action.
Another line I really liked from the first version was:
But the best part of being a hacker was that it made me a hero.
This same idea in the second version is a disaster.
I won the first prize once – $5000 – but the best thing happened as a result of hacking was that they made me a hero.
Ugh. My eyes are bleeding reading that. Obviously a quickly composed sentence-like thing that didn’t get proofread. So. Much. Badness.
The last thing I liked better in version 1 was the character’s personal recognition of what he accomplished:
I saved a guy’s life doing exactly what I was told.
There was no creativity in his heroics. No thinking outside the box. He followed directions and the old guy didn’t die. That’s a win for his strengths. He should personally acknowledge it.
What was the point?
The whole point behind this exercise from 3 AM Ephipany is that “Writers who identify completely with their central character’s POV lack all sense of irony or detachment…A good story allows us to both like and dislike a character even if we are deep inside that character’s POV.” (POV is point of view.)
So my goal was to take a character trait I do not have – I despise being told what to do – and see if I could turn it into a believable study. I spent last weekend at a hackathon in the big thinker role – yes it’s a real thing – and there is definitely a “type” of participant that wants to figure out the right answer more then they want to jump in and start coding. For that particular situation it isn’t a bad strategy, although I found it frustrating since I was supposed to be helping everyone and the question askers monopolized my time. After my first day at the event, I contemplated why the question-askers were the way they were. I hoped to make my character annoying, but then convey that his lack of “get up and go” had it’s purposes. I hope I succeeded.
I thought version 2 was best because I was able to both like and dislike my character more. He seemed more real to me.
Now I’m off to go read all the comments everyone provided to see if you all agree with me. Thanks for going on this writing journey with me, and the big take away here is “do not leave your laptop at the TSA checkpoint, because it will cost you $50.” Also, “it takes more than double 600 words to critique a 600 word character study.” If you’ve made it this far, dear reader, I thank you.