By Elaine Viets
Meet Lisa. She’s pretty, plump, tall, lean, rangy and soft with tiny white teeth.
You’re not going to meet that woman. She doesn’t exist. Not anymore. I discovered this misshapen creature lurking in Checked Out, my May 2015 Dead-End Job mystery. Lisa disappeared after the rewrite.
I do at least two rewrites for every novel, sometimes more. I ruthlessly kill whole chapters if they seem flat and dull. Judicious pruning is a key to good writing.
Checked Out is my 14th Dead-End Job mystery, set in South Florida. The series features private eye Helen Hawthorne. In Checked Out, Helen works undercover in a library, looking for a missing million dollars.
I did some looking, too, when I was rewriting Checked Out. I did a “seek and find” search for Lisa, a major character.
Oh, what I found.
Lisa is first introduced in Chapter 9. I mean that literally. Helen, who’s a volunteer at the mythical Flora Park Library, is introduced to Lisa, the board president.
“Lisa held out a soft pink hand,” I wrote.
Then I said, “Lisa was a pretty, plump fifty-something woman in a lavender pantsuit.”
Later on, Lisa “showed her tiny white teeth.”
And “Lisa placed her warm, plump hand on top of Helen’s.”
Lisa’s not getting cozy with Helen. Not that kind of cozy, anyway. The Flora Park library is supposed to be haunted by a ghost, and Lisa makes everyone who works there attend a séance to communicate with the dead woman. Helen believes the ghost is a live person, but she goes to the séance to study the reactions of the ghost hunters.
In Chapter 15, Lisa appears again. “She walked in, looking lean and lithe in a gray chalk-striped pantsuit,” I wrote.
Lean and lithe? What happened to pretty and plump?
My “seek and find” search suddenly found a totally different Lisa. Next she’s described as “tall and rangy.” Then she’s “tall and thin.” Around Chapter 31, I finally decided she has “springy blond hair.”
What was she for 30 chapters – bald?
Lisa needed a major rewrite. She got it, from the moment she was introduced. I found newer, better, and more creative ways to describe this woman.
Then I checked the other major characters, and found more inconsistencies. It took a week of rewriting, but I fixed them. I think Checked Out is a better mystery because I checked out each character.
Use your cursor to seek and find your best characters.
All it takes is some light mousework.
NOTE: I’m at Bouchercon this week, where “Fixin’ to Die,” my 9th Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper Mystery, has been nominated for a Barry Award. My panels are listed at Events on www.elaineviets.com.