Six Ways to Spring Clean Your Witchy WIP - Uncharted

Six Ways to Spring Clean Your Witchy WIP

By Jessica Evans

Feeling stuck on a project you embarked on during the chilly winter evenings? Don’t fret. Spring cleaning isn’t just for clearing out our homes but also for injecting new energy into WIPs of all shapes and sizes. This is the perfect time to freshen up our characters and narratives with a spring-inspired approach, enhancing your story while retaining your distinct voice. Let’s dive into how you can give your work the refresh it needs while maintaining the charm and authenticity of your unique voice.

Assess Your Character Closet

Picture yourself in front of a large, ancient wardrobe, but it’s filled with characters instead of clothes. Some are lively, eager for the season’s sunshine. Others are hidden away, maybe overlooked or not fitting the current season. It’s time to thoroughly examine this character collection.

Lay each character out and scrutinize their purpose, characteristics, and journey. This exercise is about profoundly understanding each character’s role in your story.

Contemplate if each character enhances your story’s fabric. Do they add unique elements or fill space? This might be hard if you’re fond of certain characters, but it’s a revealing process. You may even find a previously unnoticed character who now shines with newfound relevance.

This is also an opportunity to align characters with your narrative’s shifting themes and directions. Maybe a background character is becoming crucial, reminiscent of the narrative twists in THE EX HEX by Erin Sterling (2021). In the novel, Sterling populates her story with a vibrant cast of witches, each distinct in their magical abilities and personal quirks. Vivienne Jones, the protagonist, is a clear example of a character whose traits and backstory fit seamlessly into the narrative fabric, enhancing the bewitching atmosphere and plot dynamics. This work exemplifies how reviewing and aligning characters with the story’s themes can transform a narrative, much like sorting through a ‘character wardrobe.’ By evaluating each character’s role and purpose within the story, Sterling ensures that each contributes uniquely, similar to how you might find a previously unnoticed character who shines with newfound relevance.

Dust Off the Backstory

We all know every character has a past shrouded in experiences. With spring’s sunlight, it’s time to dust off these layers to uncover hidden depths. Treat your characters as long-stored antiques, each with their own tales and reasons for being.

You might’ve done this work already, but now’s a great time to refresh your memory and dive right into each character’s backstory. Ask yourself what drives them, what secrets have they hidden? What wishes are waiting for their moment?

Remember, while backstories add complexity, avoid overloading your narrative with irrelevant details. This spring-cleaning phase is about refinement, enhancing their current portrayal through their histories.

But be wary of cluttering your narrative with unnecessary details. Like an artist, choose which strokes of the past will bring out your character’s true colors. Not every detail needs to make it onto the page, but each one should inform how you portray their actions, decisions, and growth.

For example, in SERPENT AND DOVE by Shelby Mahurin (2019), the novel delves deeply into the backstories of Lou, a witch, and Reid, a witch hunter, whose pasts are shrouded in secrets and prejudices. By gradually revealing their histories, Mahurin enhances the narrative’s depth and complexity. This technique mirrors dusting off character backstories to reveal hidden depths without overwhelming the main narrative. Each character’s past significantly influences their decisions and relationships, demonstrating how well-crafted backstories can refine and enhance current portrayals.

Less Is More

Speaking of cluttering, we sometimes overload characters with too many traits. Like a clutter-free room, a character might stand out more with fewer but more significant characteristics unique and specific to them. As you review your character backstories, ask yourself which traits are vital to your character’s development and which are superfluous.

This isn’t about removing complexity but focusing on what’s essential. By decluttering, you allow important mannerisms to emerge clearer, facilitating a direct path for development and connection with the reader. This process enriches your characters, making them believable entities propelled by their distinctive traits toward their destinies.

Take a closer look at witchy books you love, like WITCHES OF ASH AND RUIN by E. Latimer (2020). In the novel, Latimer’s portrayal of Dayna, a witch grappling with her bisexuality and OCD, showcases the power of character traits vital to personal and narrative development. Dayna’s characteristics are not arbitrary but integral to her identity and story arc, reflecting the ‘less is more’ approach. This example underlines the importance of retaining only essential traits that contribute to a character’s depth and the story’s momentum, akin to decluttering a space to reveal its true beauty.

Old Traits, New Twists

And when you’re clear on the kinds of peculiarities you want your characters to have (or need them to have, in most cases!), it’s time to look for new twists. In other words, explore ways to repurpose what already exists.

Reevaluate your characters’ behaviors, imagining them as items in a thrift shop, ready to be reimagined. In magical and fantastical storytelling, this can lead to unique character evolution and plot twists.

A trait previously seen as a flaw might become an asset in a different scenario. For example, in CEMETARY BOYS by Aiden Thomas (2020), Thomas repurposes Yadriel’s traditional Brujo powers, initially a source of familial rejection, into a strength that solves a murder and validates his identity as a trans boy. This narrative reflects the concept of old traits gaining new twists, as Yadriel’s magical abilities, once seen as a flaw due to cultural and familial expectations, become crucial to the story’s resolution and his self-acceptance. This mirrors the idea of reimagining existing character traits for new narrative purposes, enhancing character development and plot progression.

Recycling elements enrich your story, creating a layered, interconnected narrative where every piece serves a purpose, reflecting nature’s cycles. This approach fosters a narrative that feels new and familiar, resonating with the recurring patterns of life.

Open the Windows

Spring heralds new beginnings, making it perfect for introducing fresh interactions and relationships into your story. Envision opening your narrative’s windows, letting invigorating air flow through, revitalizing every aspect of your tale. This step is about injecting new vitality into your characters’ lives, challenging them, and unveiling the hidden sides of their identities.

Introducing new characters can stimulate growth and transformation, similar to how new people in our lives can alter our viewpoints and guide us toward unknown territories. Reflect on how these fresh interactions could replicate the intricacies of real human connections, adding depth and realism to your narrative, thus making it more relatable and enriching for your audience.

Even better, new characters or dynamics can act as tools to reveal previously concealed aspects of your established characters. Observe their reactions to novel challenges or companions. Do these situations highlight their vulnerabilities, fears, or unforeseen strengths? This approach can revolutionize your narrative, providing new perspectives and insights that maintain reader interest and investment in the unfolding story.

In Alexis Henderson’s novel, THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING (2020), introducing new characters and exploring the protagonist, Immanuelle’s, heritage and destiny breathe fresh life into the traditional witch narrative. These elements act like opening windows, revitalizing the story with new challenges and relationships. Immanuelle’s interactions with the witches of the Darkwood and the revelations about her past exemplify how introducing fresh dynamics can uncover hidden facets of established characters, stimulating growth and adding depth to the narrative.

Addressing Flaws and Inconsistencies

Much like in spring cleaning, addressing the overlooked flaws and inconsistencies in your narrative is crucial – the areas that may have been neglected in your character development or plot structure. Conduct a thorough review of your characters’ behaviors, motives, and development arcs to ensure they align with the narrative.

Intentional flaws can enrich a character’s complexity and contribute significantly to the narrative’s depth. However, inconsistencies, whether in actions, timelines, or plot details, can alienate your audience and diminish the credibility of your created world. Addressing these issues directly enhances the solidity of your narrative. It sustains the essential suspension of disbelief, particularly vital in fantasy and magical realism genres.

This stage also involves honing your characters’ developmental paths, ensuring they evolve logically with the narrative’s events and their personal experiences. Authentic progression in character development can deepen the reader’s engagement, making the voyage through your fantastical realm fascinating and believable.

Consider THE WITCH’S HEART by Genevieve Gornichec (2021). The author meticulously addresses Angrboda’s flaws and past in this novel, turning them into focal points of her character development. The narrative tackles inconsistencies head-on, ensuring that Angrboda’s actions and motivations align coherently throughout the story, which mirrors the importance of addressing flaws and inconsistencies in your narrative. This approach enriches the character’s complexity and maintains the narrative’s credibility, which is crucial for engaging and retaining the reader’s suspension of disbelief in a fantastical setting.

How You Know It’s Time to Clean

You know it’s time to spring clean your WIP when the story starts to feel cluttered or stagnant, when characters or plot lines no longer resonate or seem to contribute meaningfully to the narrative, or when you find yourself stuck, unable to move forward or make decisions about the direction of your story. This dissatisfaction often signals that it’s time to reevaluate and refresh your manuscript. If you notice inconsistencies or lack of clarity, or if the passion for your project has diminished, it’s likely an indication that your WIP could benefit from a thorough review and rejuvenation, much like a home benefits from a fresh, organized environment after a thorough spring cleaning. Here’s a checklist to keep you on track.

Character Evaluation:

  • Reassess each character’s role and purpose in the story.
  • Check if all characters are necessary and contribute meaningfully to the narrative.
  • Ensure each character has a clear arc and development.
  • Verify that character motivations and actions are consistent and believable.

Plot Assessment:

  • Review the plot for any logical inconsistencies or loose ends.
  • Ensure the plot progresses naturally and maintains reader interest.
  • Check for pacing issues – are there parts that drag or are too rushed?
  • Evaluate the relevance of each subplot and its contribution to the overall story.

Setting and World-Building Review:

  • Confirm the setting contributes effectively to the atmosphere and plot.
  • Ensure world-building elements are consistent and well-integrated into the story.
  • Assess the clarity and vividness of your descriptions – are they too sparse or overly detailed?

Dialogue Check:

  • Ensure dialogue is natural and relevant and contributes to character development and plot advancement.
  • Check for unnecessary exposition or unnatural phrasing.
  • Review the balance between dialogue and narrative – is there a good mix?

Theme and Message Examination:

  • Clarify the central themes and messages of the story.
  • Ensure the themes are woven seamlessly throughout the narrative.
  • Check if the story conveys the intended message clearly and effectively.

Style and Tone Consistency:

  • Review the narrative voice for consistency in style and tone.
  • Ensure the writing style is appropriate for the target audience and genre.
  • Check for any abrupt shifts in tone that may confuse or alienate readers.

Pacing and Structure Analysis:

  • Evaluate the structure of the story for logical flow and coherence.
  • Check the pacing to ensure a balanced action, dialogue, and description progression.
  • Review chapter breaks and transitions for smoothness and logic.

Language and Grammar Polish:

  • Conduct a line-by-line edit for grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and typos.
  • Review language for clarity, conciseness, and impact.
  • Check for overused words, clichés, or repetitive sentence structures.

Reader Engagement and Satisfaction:

  • Consider whether the story holds and satisfies a reader’s interest from beginning to end.
  • Evaluate if the climax and resolution are fulfilling and well-executed.
  • Consider feedback from beta readers or critique partners for confusion or disinterest.

Personal Attachment and Bias:

  • Assess if personal bias towards characters or plot points has influenced the story detrimentally.
  • Determine if elements are retained for personal reasons rather than for the story’s benefit.
  • Be open to cutting or changing beloved scenes or characters if they do not serve the narrative effectively.

As spring progresses, take the opportunity to refresh and deepen your characters. Review and realign each character’s role within your story’s shifting themes, explore their histories, and hone their characteristics. Introduce new interactions, reassess and innovate on existing attributes, and cleanse your story of any discrepancies. Allow your characters to flourish with the season, transforming your narrative into an enthralling and resonant universe.