Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wants and Needs: On Character-Driven Revisions by Andrea Hannah

Hi guys! KJ here - I've got the lovely Andrea Hannah here today to chat about revisions and what your characters need.

Her OF SCARS AND STARDUST releases October 8th, and let me tell you -as someone who witnessed her revisions, it was an amazing overwhelming process. And as someone who constantly receives revision advice from Andrea, her take on this is sheer brilliant.

I'll let Andrea take it from here.

Wants and Needs: On Character-Driven Revisions by Andrea Hannah

In the past, I’ve talked a lot about outlining to ensure that the story you want to tell is cohesive, logical, and evenly paced. But what about thoughtful? Magnetic? Unputdownable? That kind of magic happens happens through the process of revision.

The thing is, you can give your character external motivation and interests and hobbies galore, but no matter how much you outline, it’s hard to know exactly who that character is and what she desperately needs. Needs is the key word there. Sure, when I set out on my first draft, I have a general idea of what this character wants to accomplish. What I figure out when I’m drafting is what she needs, which is often very different than what she wants. Then I can go back and layer in all of the phrases and emotions and tension between her wants and needs.

Example: When I set out to write Of Scars and Stardust, I knew that the driving force behind Claire’s actions was how badly she wanted to find her sister. What I figured out as I wrote, and Claire started talking to me, was that underneath that hunt she needed to believe she wasn’t crazy. She needed to prove her sanity, to the people of Amble and to herself, in a very desperate, consuming way. Once I figured that out, I was able to go back through the manuscript and thread in scenes where Claire had to make a choice between her wants and her needs: choosing between following illogical clues to find Ella or acting “normal” in order to avoid being harassed; choosing between ignoring her own internal truth to keep her family safe, or following it at the expensive of her relationship with Grant.

After you finish that draft, sit down with your character. Ask what she wants, and then what she needs. Then make a list of ways in which you can play on that tension in your story, how you can thread a choice between the two throughout every scene. This is the most authentic way I’ve come to revise my work; I’ve learned to let the character lead the way, and I make sure to ask her what she wants and needs throughout the story. If you make sure there’s tension between the two throughout each chapter, you’re well on your way to creating a believable character that your reader is rooting for. And you know what kind of books compelling characters live in? The unputdownable kind.

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in October 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her website @:

1 comment:

  1. Great advice-- love how conscious you are of this in your work!