Developmentally Editing Characters in Eight Steps

developmentally editing characters

Developmentally Editing Characters

    1. LIST CHARACTERS: When developmentally editing characters, first make a list of all characters within the narrative, both main characters and secondary characters.
    2. SEARCH CHARACTERS: Do a search for each character within the manuscript and identify how many times a character appears by name within the manuscript. Do one or more of your secondary characters appear more often than your main characters? Why? (Perhaps this is simply pronoun usage, or it could be due to a neglect of character treatment.)
    3. COLOR CODE CHARACTERS: Do a search/replace for each character within the document, highlighting each character with a different font color. Do your main characters appear consistently throughout the manuscript? If not, why? Do you main characters appear in the first chapter or paragraphs? If not, why? (Again, this could be intentional and successful, or it could be a neglect of character treatment.)
    4. AMALGAMATE MAIN CHARACTERS: Study each character for necessity. Would one or more of your main characters benefit from amalgamation? What would happen if you amalgamated the protagonist and antagonist?  (We often write too many characters into our early drafts. This is okay, it is part of the process, AND it can be a fantastic first step toward developing surprisingly deep and diverse characters upon amalgamation.)
    5. AMALGAMATE SECONDARY CHARACTERS: Study each secondary character for necessity. Would one or more of your secondary characters benefit from amalgamation? 
    6. DIVINE INTRODUCTIONS: Each time you introduce a new character, give this character a “divine moment” in which this character makes an unforgettable impression upon the reader. If a character does not lend itself to a divine moment, maybe the character should be amalgamated into another character or cut altogether from the narrative.
    7. CHARACTER TIMELINES: Using Excel or some of other software, create a timeline of your characters, main and secondary, beginning with their birthdays and continuing to the last date of the narrative. Add place details, global events, national events and community events to the timeline.
    8. CYCLICAL DEVELOPMENT: Developmentally editing characters is a cyclical process. With each major revision of the work, repeat the above steps, always looking for ways to tighten characterizations within the narrative.

Why Online Writing Workshops?

Online writing workshops present the best of both worlds for creative writers: creative isolation and craft interaction. The New Yorker article by Louis Menand, “Show or Tell: Should Creative Writing be Taught?” proposes the perennial question of whether or not writers can be taught or must be born. Our stance at The Eckleburg Workshops is that writers can be shown many craft writing skills and be encouraged to explore voice through the practice of these skills as well as the observation of these skills in both master and developing narratives. It is our stance that creative writing can be sculpted and nurtured and is best taught by published authors and experienced writing teachers. This is what we give you in each and every writing course and in our One on One individualized manuscript sessions.

The Eckleburg Workshops: Online Writing Workshops

Eckleburg offers noncredit online writing workshops in fictionpoetryessays, short stories, the novel and more. The writing workshops are intended for writers who want to focus on craft in an encouraging, professional, diverse environment. 

All writing workshops are work-at-your-own-pace. When you are ready for individualized feedback—developmental edits, line edits and endnotes—submit your work. Our instructors have graduate degrees and professional publication experience in their writing workshop focuses and are happy to meet participants at whatever writing stage and focus participants find themselves. Participants may complete assignments anytime. We are open to English-speaking and writing participants both locally and globally and encourage gender and cultural diversity with a focus on historically marginalized voices.

Our instructors are award-winning and published authors and hold degrees from/taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Iowa’s International Writing Program, Johns HopkinsYale, BrownHarvardColumbiaNew SchoolNew York UniversitySUNY, Portland, San Diego State UniversityNew York University, Bennington, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, the University of Oregon and more. They live in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Ankara, San Diego, LA and Denver. Several of them are award-winning and with books out. They have been interviewed and published in The Paris Review,  The New YorkerAtlantic Monthly, McSweeney’sThe RumpusThe Nervous BreakdownThe New York Times, Salonand more. What our instructors share is an eye for innovative storytelling with solid narrative structure as well as a focus on personal voice. Learn more about our individual instructors. More Questions? Visit our FAQs Page.


Each work has its own strengths and needs, successes and focus areas. I approach each new work with an eye toward individual voice so that the work can take on a life of its own that focuses on your intentions. Below, you’ll find a link for submission guidelines and submitting your manuscript. As we move through your work, we’ll look at the following:

    • What is the intention for the work, as communicated on the page and as is essential to the main characters?
    • What is the authentic voice of the narrator, and how can this be brought out thoroughly and to the work’s best interest?
    • What is your authentic voice and how can this be coupled with the needs of the narrative voice?
    • Developmentally, how can the character arcs and the overall narrative be brought to fuller realization?
    • Linguistically, how does the cadence, syntax and repetition in language support the overall artistry of the piece? 
    • Mechanically, are the choices being made in the overall best interest of the authentic narrative voice?
    • What can be strengthened from word choice and comma usage?

Thank you for joining us at The Eckleburg Workshops. I promise to honor your hard work and talents.

How intensive is the Eckleburg Writing Workshops schedule?

You will be able to log in and complete the weekly writing prompts, readings, discussion prompts, etc. as it best fits into your schedule, whether you are at home or traveling. The online visual structure of the course makes it easy to read and respond via your desktop, laptop and smartphone.  Submit work for individualized feedback when it is convenient for you and your project.

How do I register for the Eckleburg Writing Workshops?

Begin by clicking on the workshop link you would like to take. Next, click on the CART link and you will be taken to the payment portal where you can pay by credit card or Paypal. You can CANCEL at anytime with a click. 

Join Christopher Dewan for 30 Stories in 30 Days at The Eckleburg Workshops

Christopher DeWan is author of the book, Work and Other Essays, and has published over three dozen stories in journals including A cappella Zoo, Bartleby Snopes, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, DOGZPLOT, Jersey Devil Press, JMWW, Juked, Necessary Fiction, and wigleaf. His fiction has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. As a screenwriter, he has been recognized by CineStory, the Creative World Awards, Final Draft, the PAGE Awards, Screencraft, and Slamdance. He works as a strategist and storyteller for new media, collaborating on videogames, web series, and other second-screen and transmedia properties for Bad Robot, Paramount, Universal, the Walt Disney Company and others. In 2013, he was a featured copywriter on AMC’s The Pitch. He has an MFA in critical studies and theater from the California Institute of the Arts and an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Cornell University. He has been a consultant for the literary magazine Electric Literature, a contributor at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a guest artist at the Music Center of Los Angeles, a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and an instructor at the California State Summer School for the Arts, teaching fiction and screenwriting. 

FREE WORKSHOP: Universal Manuscript Format and How To Push Your Manuscript to the Editor’s Desk

Cute unicorn in fairy tale cave


An editor opens her submissions queue and finds she’s received 600 unsolicited submissions this week. She looks at the middle school poster on her wall, it is of a unicorn with a pink main and tail and golden horn. She’s named the unicorn Unsolicited Submitter. She sighs then assigns the submissions to her readers. There are three of them. They are entry level staff volunteers whose jobs are to weed out the obvious declines and promote the maybes.

Reader #1: Bob

Defeat, failure, overwhelmed young manBob was just rejected by his favorite literary journal that morning after the journal kept his work for 285 days. He really wants to be head editor and hates slushing through unsolicited submissions. Each time he can demote a submission, he does so zealously, clicking the thumbs down icon with such force that the mouse sometimes flies off his desk. He giggles when this happens. Bob wants you to know that he doesn’t hold his personal rejection against you but that, truth be told, today, it feels a little bit good when he can demote a manuscript for obviously ignoring submission guidelines.

Reader #2: Jillian

Young beautiful hippie girl sitting near a houseJillian always feels bad when she has to decline a submission for improper formatting. She says a small pagan prayer each time and makes hand gestures toward the four corners and seasons and sky and earth. She hopes that the karma will balance out. She has been vegan, officially, for three months now, and she wants you to know that. She also wants you to know that after she has demoted your manuscript for bad formatting, she reads your first sentence to commemorate the manuscript, an act of mourning. She’s very sorry. Really.

Reader #3: Fancy

Mohawk Lady, 3d CGFancy just came off a punk revival cover band tour. She’s decided she wants to be a writer now. She read Less than Zero in elementary school and has carried it around with her ever since. She has a good eye and a fierce hatred of entitled writer people. She has a black T-shirt that says exactly this. Though her mohawk is three feet tall, on a good day, and is pink, her manuscripts go out to editors, always, in plain, boring universal manuscript format, unless the journal requests something different. Each time she opens a submission that obviously did not follow the journal’s guidelines, she gives it the middle finger and shakes her head sadly. She will often mutter the word “dude.”

What do Bob, Jillian and Fancy look for as they open the 600 submissions they have to review? They look for obvious signs that the guidelines were not followed and then quickly demote the submission without being read because their editors have told them to do this. Why did their editors tell them to do this? Would you want to work with a writer who can’t follow easy instructions and has so little regard for your journal that they submit improperly?

The Truth About Submissions

Literary journals receive far more submissions than can be read completely through. Readers look for submissions that first, follow guidelines (and, yes, editors do sometimes add specific expectations in their guidelines so that this is an easy tell), then they start reading until they have lost interest. If a manuscript is on its game and suits the aesthetics of the journal, a reader will make it the whole way through. At this point, the manuscript has a chance at making it to the next level.

There are obvious “demotable” signs: submissions that include fancy “happy” fonts OR a “pretty” font color OR have a picture of a unicorn OR try to stand out in any way that has nothing to do with the context and language of the narrative. BIG NO NO. We like unicorns at Eckleburg. We think everyone should like unicorns, but adding unicorns to your manuscript, when the manuscript does not contextually call for a unicorn, is a bad move.

When the readers and editors look at your narrative manuscript, the only elements that should stand out are what are created within the contexts of the narrative itself. Of course, if you are submitting poetry, intermedia, innovative, hybrid, etc., structural play might very well be an important element within the narrative itself, but even in these scenarios, professional writers will still attempt to submit the innovative work as close to the guidelines as possible.


Universal Manuscript Format

At The Eckleburg Workshops, we do follow the Universal Manuscript Format. Unless your instructor specifically requests something different, you should always follow this format:

  • MS doc or docx,
  • double space,
  • 12 pt.,
  • Times New Roman,
  • no spaces between paragraphs (the single space, extra space between paragraphs is an online format that you should NEVER use when submitting to journals and/or workshops unless specifically requested by the editor/instructor),
  • indent each paragraph (including the first paragraph),
  • use section breaks, CENTERED (*** or #), so the editor can easily see them.

The above link for Universal Manuscript Format will give you a very specific and easy to follow visual. Please make sure to view this.

These guidelines are in place, market wide, for valid and time-tested reasons. Though some editors and agents have their particular unique preferences, universal standards are usually preferred because: (1) Times New Roman 12 pt. is one of the more easily read fonts, which saves editors’ eyesight over time; (2) Asking an editor or instructor to reformat your manuscript when the expectations were already clearly made gives the impression that you do not follow guidelines, did not read the guidelines and/or consider yourself entitled and above the professional standard considerations; this doesn’t give the impression of professional writer with whom an editor would want to work; (3) Double-spacing makes it easier to read the text and make comments if the editor prints the text out; even if not printed out, the double-spacing is how most editors are accustomed to reading manuscripts and it’s not our jobs as writers to question the reading preferences of editors and agents; (4) Proper headings assure the editor and instructor can contact you and that the submission, whether printed out or read digitally, will always be in tact whether or not pages were dropped to the floor.

Remember, the submitted manuscript format has nothing to do with the writer’s preferences. While the writer is writing his or her work, it is certainly natural and suggested that the manuscript be formatted to suit the writer; however, before submitting, the manuscript should be formatted exactly to the editor’s/instructor’s preferences down to every detail. Do not start off by giving the editor/instructor a bad impression of your thoroughness as a writer and potential contributor. Always pay close attention to each step of the submissions process.

Unsolicited submissions do not have “rights” from editors past confidentiality. The editors can read or not read based on their own preference. No contract has been made. For this reason, and more, we expect all writers at The Eckleburg Workshops to follow and practice Universal Manuscript Formatting so that the good habit is formed and so that our instructors, who are reading many manuscripts over a week’s time, do not need to reformat and so on. This is one of the easiest and most effective submissions lessons we can teach you.

The best reason for writers to follow guidelines for each individual editor, agent, instructor, journal, etc., is to give your manuscript the best first impression you can. If your reader must reformat your manuscript before even reading, your work already has a strike against it and/or it will be thrown out or declined without being read at all. Always follow guidelines in workshop, journal, publisher and agent submission practices. It’s in your best interest and in your work’s best interest.

Read more tips from editors, writers and instructors at the FREE WORKSHOP: “The Importance of Following Submission Guidelines.”

Rae Bryant II

RAE BRYANT’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared in print and online at  The Paris ReviewThe Missouri ReviewStoryQuarterlyMcSweeney’sNew World WritingGargoyle Magazine,and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/HemingwayPen Emerging Writers&NOW Award and Pushcart Prize. She has won awards in fiction from Whidbey Writers and The Johns Hopkins University as well as fellowships from the VCCA and Hopkins to write, study and teach in Florence, Italy. She earned a Masters in Writing from Hopkins where she continues to teach creative writing and is editor in chief of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. She has also taught in the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. Rae is the director of The Eckleburg Workshops. She has a Bachelors in Humanities from Penn State with a concentration in Eduction and English Literature and minors in Art, History and Philosophy. In addition to her Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins, she completed graduate coursework in Curriculum and Administration at Penn State. She has been teaching and lecturing for over twenty years in campus classrooms. Rae is a member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, CLMP and NBCC.