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. 

Keeping Score

Keeping Score

by Kevin Brown

In my neighborhood, my friends played sports year-round: football in the fall; basketball in winter and spring; and baseball in the summer. Most of the time, I’d join them, and we tried almost any sport we saw. After seeing field hockey in the early days of ESPN, we used metal tent poles as sticks and played in the Kellys’ backyard with a tennis ball until someone swung too high and hit Pat Kelly in the cheek with the end of a tent pole, giving him a gash he would wear for weeks. I learned how to play tennis using badminton rackets and a nerf ball, our bikes serving as nets, turned sideways on our driveway or carport (when it rained).

What’s odd, though, about our fascination with sports is that almost none of us ended up playing sports on the varsity level, whether from lack of interest or ability. Russ, the only one who ended up playing football his last couple of years of high school, seemed to do it more because of his friends than because of an interest in the sport itself. It seemed a pastime, not a passion. The rest of us played on school teams in high school, a few in middle school, or on teams through the Boys’ Club, especially a baseball team that largely consisted of boys from our neighborhood almost everyone played on until we were eleven or twelve.

In fact, apart from one person—Cook, we called him, using his last name—the rest of us actually weren’t all that interested in sports. Maybe I was, as my father had played basketball and baseball in the college and army, respectively, and he encouraged my involvement. He spent many afternoons and evenings throwing with me, taking me to shoot basketball at the university where he worked, or watching whatever major sport was on at the time (he was partial to college basketball and professional football).

I should say that he never pressured me into sports, and it was only much later in life that I realized he didn’t have any expectations for me at all. I was a small child and am a small adult compared with my father; I’m 5’8”, and he was a bit over 6’4”. When he was teaching me about basketball, he taught me how to play like a big man, as everyone assured me that my growth spurt was coming. They kept telling me how my father didn’t grow until after his sophomore year of high school. Though I have long arms like he did, I’m still waiting for the rest of my growth to spurt.

He came to visit me when he was attending his fiftieth high school reunion (where his basketball team was honored), and we talked about my lack of athletic ability. He said, “Go back and look at the pictures and see how small you were. Even if you made great contact with the ball, you’d be lucky to hit it out of the infield.” When I was a child, I didn’t realize that was true, but, as an adult, I can easily admit he was right. I could have been better than I was if I would have worked harder, certainly, but I didn’t think I had the athletic build I needed to truly succeed, especially in high school.

Perhaps that’s why I sometimes avoided playing sports in the neighborhood, especially football. Sometimes, instead of playing, I would referee, as if a neighborhood game needed someone to actually enforce the rules. But that’s what I would do. I would take a handkerchief from my drawer, put rocks in the middle of it and then rubber band them in to make a weighted penalty flag. I would call off-sides on twelve-year-olds who were standing inches in front of the ball, making them replay downs, though I never made the difficult calls such as pass interference. Those calls relied on judgment, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of angering anyone. I stuck to the facts, calls I could easily defend if I was challenged. And I pretended as if my participation in the game mattered, though no one else really seemed to. They tolerated my presence, but they weren’t happy. At times, they could pressure me into playing. Usually, I would drift home.

There were other ways I tried to participate in sports without actually doing so. I had a game that we neighborhood boys played fairly regularly. It was called All-Star Baseball, a game that involved discs and two players; each disc represented a real life baseball star. We inserted the disc into a plastic slot with a spinner on it. The points on the spinner were numbered, with each point corresponding to a play in baseball. The player would spin, then based on what number the spinner stopped at, their baseball star would be awarded a hit or be declared out. I can still remember that a 7 or 13 was a single, while a 1 (in the top middle of the disc) was a home run. There were rules for how many bases runners were allowed to advance based on the hit. The two players would hold a draft or randomly select their discs, then play a 9-inning game. A number of us enjoyed playing it together.

However, it wasn’t enough for me to simply play this baseball game with my neighborhood friends. I would also play when no one was around, playing both teams by myself. I would even develop leagues with four different teams, work out schedules for what passed for a season, and keep standings to see which team ultimately won the season title. Yes, I even had a World Series. It was in these solitary moments that I realized that it was the statistics, not the game itself, that engaged me. I kept detailed statistics, updating the leaders in hits, RBIs, ERA, even fielding percentage, after every few games. I went through reams of paper that I kept in the game at all times, even after the seasons were already past. I didn’t really care who won or how or why. It wasn’t the strategy of it all. I simply enjoyed the numbers.

The same thing was true when I watched baseball games. If I attended a minor league game (the city where I grew up still only has a single-A team), or, if it was one of the summers we drove a couple of hours to see the Atlanta Braves play, I would get a program and record the game’s statistics. Afterwards, I would spend more time calculating batting averages and any other statistic I could, sometimes spending more energy on that than on the game itself. I didn’t pay attention to how the players performed in and of themselves; I wasn’t there to learn how to improve my performance on the field. I was there to keep track of what happened.

Keeping statistics for sporting events satisfied the geeky part of me, while keeping me connected to the sports that were so important in my neighborhood. It gave me a way to pretend to be involved in sports without actually caring about the sports themselves. I somehow preferred the imaginary world of sports I created through a game to the reality of playing. I was like Tolkien fans who learn Elvish or write fan fiction of what happens to Frodo after the end of the trilogy. Worse, I was like a Tolkien fan who really didn’t like the books all that much while learning Elvish. I was like a kid who played basketball on the Nintendo, yet talked about how good he was at basketball, as if he couldn’t see the difference between the two worlds.

One summer, when I was at basketball camp, one of the coaches was talking to us as a group. He asked how many of us thought we would play professional basketball. Many of us raised our hands, as did I. I was the kid who wasn’t even playing on his school team, who spent more afternoons lying on the bedroom floor doing math problems for fun than working on drills to improve. I was the kid who couldn’t use the correct shooting form because I was so small, yet I believed I was going to play professional basketball.

It wasn’t until high school, when the real athletes and academicians truly began to emerge, that I realized I couldn’t keep up the charade. I could have played basketball my sophomore year (they didn’t cut anyone), but I quit before the season started when it was clear I wouldn’t see any real playing time. I wasn’t willing to work at practice to get better, and I was falling in with a different group of kids, ones who were more interested in school than they were in athletics. I didn’t find my way to literature and writing until college, solely because of one professor’s influence, but I was already on my way to becoming an academic. Perhaps that’s why the statistics and the theoretical interested me as much as the real.

Now that I’m older, I pursue individual sports (running, especially) rather than ones that require a team. The few years I worked at private high schools, before I made the move to university teaching, I helped coach a variety of teams, ranging from basketball to tennis to cross-country. Not only did my athletic background make me more employable, but it also helped me get to know students I would never know in any other way, and they got to see me as more than someone who reads and writes.

No matter where the pressure came from when I was in middle and high school, it shaped me (as pressure always does) into the person I am today. My childhood is like the argument I make about liberal arts when I teach core classes to undergraduates. I explain to my students who are taking a world literature survey or a composition course that we require such classes because we want them to see the world as wider than what their discipline might offer. Even if they’re going to run a business, work as a nurse, or spend their lives doing statistics, they can have other lenses through which to see the world, including literature and writing. Because of my childhood, I can see the world through the lens of athletics, connecting with relatives and students alike, helping me live in a wider world, as well. 

An Open Letter to Women Who Say Pride and Prejudice Is Their Favorite Book When They Have Almost Certainly Never Read It

Dear Women Who Say Pride and Prejudice Is Your Favorite Book When You Have Almost Certainly Never Read It,

I suppose when our conversation alights—precariously—on the topic of books and literature, and I benightedly ask you what your favorite novel is, you have to find something to plug up the gap. I am not unsympathetic. If someone were to ask me what my favorite hockey team was, I would probably just answer “Capitals” even though I have never even attempted to watch a hockey game in my life, televised or live, and I become irrationally irritated when Capitals fans crowd the Gallery Place Metro station on weekends. 

Even so, the better answer at that juncture would be, “I don’t actually watch hockey,” and then the hypothetical conversation might grind back to the weather for a while before I or the other party made another awkward stab at more meaningful connection. I would prefer, actually, this turn of events—that is, I would prefer it if you would just tell me you don’t really read novels instead of you telling me that Pride and Prejudice is your favorite novel and thereby instigating The Conversation.

What I mean by The Conversation is your futile, lighthearted, and curiously brazen attempt to convince me that you have read the works of Jane Austen when your exposure to her consists of, at most, the 2005 Joe Wright adaptation of your purported “favorite novel” and maybe half an episode of a British miniseries of Mansfield Park you caught one night while you were cooking dinner. It invariably begins with your gushing insistence that you Love Jane Austen™ and oh my goodness, where have all the Mr. Darcys gone?! If I’m in a particularly spiteful mood, I might aver that Mr. Darcy seemed like kind of an asshole and probably wasn’t that much fun to be around in the long run. Then I might let it drop that I preferred Mr. Bingley, goofy as he was, at which point escapes from your lips a high-pitched, “Mr. Who?”

“The one with the red hair,” I say, and the conversation is usually immediately recovered. “Ohhhh, yeah, that proposal was super touching,” and I want to say, “You mean the one that occurs offscreen in the book?” but I don’t because even I, curmudgeon that I am, am not that vindictive. Instead, I usually agree with a lifeless “yeah,” and The Conversation trundles on to the point where you state that Lizzy Bennet is “such a strong female character” and “so ahead of her time.” To which I might raise you that I liked Anne Elliot even better, and I might have asked you if you have read Persuasion had you not declared yourself to be such a diehard Austen fan, but no—I have to rescue you by politely commenting that Persuasion is sad but such a beautiful book. Your foundering mouth closes in relief. 

You change the subject to yoga, a subject with which I have only the barest of acquaintances, but it’s all right because you have some rather long-winded story to tell and a categorical recommendation about which studios I should frequent and which I should avoid, if I desire to take up yoga as a serious hobby, which I most definitely should. Our conversation, now returned to a more honest one-sidedness, bobbles along like the float on a fishing line. Ahhh.

My point is, Women Who Say Pride and Prejudice Is Your Favorite Book When You Have Almost Certainly Never Read It, I have an English degree from a well-respected university and you are never going to fool me. Yeah, I might be on my high horse, but I suppose what I really take offense to—the real reason why I am writing this letter—is that you don’t care whether or not you fool me (believe me, I can tell) as long as I don’t expose your artifice because, to you, reading the book and watching the movie are the same thing. You think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that you love Jane Austen’s work when all you’ve really done is appreciate an artsy film adaptation that, while good, is no substitute for the actual flesh and blood of the text. Jane Austen, to you, is a brand, a genre. And it’s all about wish-fulfillment rather than social intricacy, the costume budget rather than witty narration, or understated character development, or what Austen did to elevate romance into literature. 

Guilty as charged; I’m a snob.

But would a little honest appreciation be too much to ask? Or, better yet, you could just swallow your pride, tell me you don’t read novels, and we could get on to talking about yoga or the weather. After all, I started talking to you because I was dying to hear about the guy staring at your ass while you were doing your cat-cow poses. 


With exasperation,

Emily Holland

Emily Holland is a 2014 graduate of the University of Chicago and currently lives in Frederick, Maryland. She works there for the Frederick Arts Council and is most proud, recently, of her work on the Sky Stage project. Like every writer ever, she owns cats and is addicted to black coffee. She has been published once previously in Atticus Review.

The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review was founded in 2010 as an online and print literary and arts journal. We take our title from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and include the full archives of our predecessor Moon Milk Review. Our aesthetic is eclectic, literary mainstream to experimental. We appreciate fusion forms including magical realist, surrealist, meta- realist and realist works with an offbeat spin. We value character-focused storytelling and language and welcome both edge and mainstream with punch aesthetics. We like humor that explores the gritty realities of world and human experiences. Our issues include original content from both emerging and established writers, poets, artists and comedians such as authors, Rick Moody, Cris Mazza, Steve Almond, Stephen Dixon, poets, Moira Egan and David Wagoner and actor/comedian, Zach Galifianakis.

Currently, Eckleburg runs online, daily content of original fiction, poetry, nonfiction, translations, and more with featured artwork–visual and intermedia–from our Gallery. We run annual print issues, the Eckleburg Reading Series (DC, Baltimore and New York), as well as, the annual Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction, first prize $1000 and print publication, guest-judged by award-winning authors such as Rick Moody and Cris Mazza.

We have collaborated with a number of talented and high profile literary, art and intermedia organizations in DC, Baltimore and New York including The Poetry Society of New York, KGB Bar, Brazenhead Books, New World Writing(formerly Mississippi Review Online), The Hopkins Review, Boulevard, Gargoyle Magazine, Entasis Press, Barrelhouse, Hobart, 826DC, DC Lit and Iowa’s Mission Creek Festival at AWP 2013, Boston, for a night of raw comedic lit and music. We like to promote smaller indie presses, galleries, musicians and filmmakers alongside globally recognized organizations, as well as, our local, national and international contributors.

Rarely will readers/viewers find a themed issue at Eckleburg, but rather a mix of eclectic works. It is Eckleburg’s intention to represent writers, artists, musicians, and comedians as a contemporary and noninvasive collective, each work evidence of its own artistry, not as a reflection of an editor’s vision of what an issue “should” be. Outside of kismet and special issues, Eckleburg will read and accept unsolicited submissions based upon individual merit, not theme cohesiveness. It is our intention to create an experience in which readers and viewers can think artistically, intellectually, socially, and independently. We welcome brave, honest voices. To submit, please read our guidelines.


p style=”text-align: left;” align=”center”>Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away. – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald