Lesson Twenty-Four from a Manuscript Red Line: Remembering where your characters are

Do you pay attention to where your characters are in a scene?  Are you sure?  I thought I was sure too.  Guess what?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The publisher who red-lined the Gold Mine Manuscript pointed out a scene where the two main characters were running side by side away from some danger.  All of the sudden, one of them shouted from behind the other one.  The comment from the publisher was:  “They were together, but you didn’t say he jumped ahead. How then did she get behind?”

I read over this the first time I looked at the red-line, because it seemed like another “duh” comment.  However,  just a few weeks ago one of my betas pointed out that both my characters were standing right next to each other, and then all of the sudden Jerric walked up to Magellan from the other side of the room.  Why would he walk up if he was already at his side?

Similarly, I recently re-wrote a scene where someone was seated the entire time.  In the end, he falls off the chair.  I changed it so he stands up early in the scene, but after leaving it for a month, and then looking at the scene again, I noticed that my “standing” character still fell off the chair.  Was he standing on the chair?  Of course not!

The point of all this is to pay attention to where your character is, and make sure it is consistent throughout the scene.  If not, show us the movement.  If you don’t, you can unintentionally make your scene comical.


18 responses to “Lesson Twenty-Four from a Manuscript Red Line: Remembering where your characters are

  1. Yes, consistency is important and so often read over without seeing the problems. Leaving it for awhile and then reading it again is a good strategy. Beta readers will catch them, too, even if you’ve missed them. An editor will, for sure, although it’s usually best to catch these things before sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher! 🙂

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  3. WhitneyCarter

    LOL, I laughed reading this post because I’ve done the same thing I donno how many times. That’s why I have to make myself leave manuscripts alone for several days before I come back to them, otherwise the tendency to read right through consistency errors (and others of course) is a lot stronger. Awesome post, as always.

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  5. Dear Jennifer,
    Thanks for this timely advice. I’ve completed sixteen drafts of a novel and am now doing my final polishing of dialogue and sentence structure. But I’ll watch character movement as well.’


  6. I did that once, but my issue was time. I had three sunsets and two different stages of the moon, one cresent and one full in 24 hours. An easy catch, though very funny.

  7. Marie Gilbert

    Good post. I’ve caught a few mistakes since I’ve been editing my book.

  8. We’re all guilty, but I am consistent. My heroine sips tea–a good way to delay an answer while collecting her thoughts–but she’s sipped her tea while shifting gears in a mini cooper. Luckily, I caught it before I sent it out. Unluckily, I can’t resist sharing my shame in a public venue.

  9. I discovered I had time travel elements in my NON paranormal ms during a method acting exercise with Margie Lawson.

    One writer had a multi-character scene. She had one poor guy point at a chart on the wall and left him there.

    If you haven’t yet tried method acting in your critique groups (or during happy hour), I HIGHLY recommend it–for the hoot factor alone. Oooh! Starbucks! A writers group at Starbucks doing method acting. It would be like a flash ,mini-mob.

    Calling “dibs” on that, Jennifer.

    • Ha! I see a cyber-link meeting on the horizon. What a hoot of a good time we could have (It would be more fun in a coffee shop, but until we can afford the air-fare, we will have to improvise!)

  10. Oh, oh, oh! I’ve done this type of thing before … unfortunately. Back when I was a teenager, I remember looking over stories where magical things happened in normal worlds. Characters spoke dialogue when they weren’t in the scene. All that kind of embarrassing stuff.

    You aren’t alone. It’s good to share these experiences. 🙂

  11. Character placement and movement is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for me. thanks for the great reminder.

  12. There’s a scene in the Order of the Phoenix where Harry slams a door that was already shut. Goes to show you even the masters make mistakes, and editors sometimes don’t find them, either.

  13. Oh yeah, these can be doozies, especially if you make a mistake like this in a sex scene, LOL! “Wait, I thought he was…” I remember reading someone else’s post that said that a Beta caught that the hero had three hands… Something that I hadn’t thought about was cultural and historical norms spatially, until a Beta this week marked a spot in my manuscript that had the man leading one lady by the arm and left the other 2 ladies to follow behind. She pointed out that in the 19th century a gentleman always followed up in the rear…

  14. Good point! I have seen this in my critique group and with my own stuff! Great idea to put on anyone’s “scene checklist.”