Tag Archives: character

Bleeding Out: Transmitting Raw Emotions onto the Page

9692710634_d613f36fdd_z

Emotions are an extremely important part of writing well. In real life, they connect people to each other. In literature, they connect readers to the characters. Without emotions, people wouldn’t be able to feel a story, and if they can’t feel a story, then they can’t relate to it.

Think about some of your favorite stories. How did they make you feel? In all of my favorite books, I’ve felt like I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster. I was able to experience every emotion the protagonist did, whether that was fear, anticipation, excitement, panic, dread, or love.

Our brains are wired to process other peoples’ emotions. When a friend loses someone they love, we feel that loss. When a person yawns, we yawn. When we read an article about a deceased soldier being flown home, or a lion being injured, hunted, and then killed, we experience sadness or anger, perhaps both.

When we are able to put raw emotions onto the page, readers are able to sympathize. Our emotions resonate with them.

But transferring raw emotions into our writing isn’t easy – it’s exhausting – so how can we do it effectively?

  1. We have to feel. Putting up a wall between us and our characters will only harm our writing. If we distance ourselves from our story, readers will know. They’ll be able to feel it through our words. So, imagine scenes as if you were there. Sit back and close your eyes and picture yourself in your characters’ shoes. What does each character see, smell, hear, touch, taste, and feel? Once you can clearly picture and feel a scene, then we’ll be able to write it down in a way that readers will be able to fully experience it.

An author friend of mine has gotten so sucked into her own writing before that she sometimes finds herself crying because her characters are heartbroken, or her heart is pounding and she’s sweating because her characters are filled with apprehension and fear.

  1. Show instead of tell. In some of the workshops I’ve been in, one of the most common critiques is that writers are telling a story rather than showing it. They’ll say that a character feels angry rather than showing anger. For example, “Sally is filled with anger when she sees Rex with his new girlfriend,” rather than, “After spotting Rex with his new girlfriend, Sally rushes out of the party, and when she gets home, she grabs the nearest kitchen chair and hurls it across the room.”

Showing emotion has a much stronger impact than telling it. This is because showing keeps readers immersed in the story. They are in “feeling” mode rather than “thinking” mode. If you say a character is sad, then the reader has to think of sad memories in order to experience the emotion. But, if you show sadness, instead of naming it, then the character will automatically feel the emotion.

Also, by showing emotion, readers connect with the characters, and will want to continue reading. Often when emotions are stated, readers don’t care about what happens because they haven’t bonded with the characters.

It’s not easy to let raw emotions out. It means having to dig inside ourselves to find those emotions, but it will be worth it because then our stories will successfully carry emotion.

As Ernest Hemingway says, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

How do you go about bleeding on the page?

(Photo courtesy of SeRGioSVoX.)

Advertisements

Developing that Photograph: Knowing Your Characters

ws_Developing_a_film_1440x900Just as it takes time to get to know a friend, it takes times to get to know your characters.

Every single person on this planet is different. We are all born with a set of personality traits and then the environment, our experiences and how we interpret and respond to them, affect our personality. An easy way to think of this is that each personality trait we have, whether it’s agreeableness, adaptability, or domineering, is a ruler. Our genetics set the ends of that ruler, while our environment gives us an exact position on that ruler.

For instance, let’s look at trustfulness of others. Zero centimeters equals one-hundred percent trustful. Twenty centimeters equals one-hundred percent distrustful. You may have been born at zero (completely trusting of others), but your life experiences (and your interpretation of those experiences) have shifted you to fifteen centimeters. You are now pretty distrustful of others.

But your maternal twin sibling, who has the same genetics as you hasn’t had the same life experiences. Therefore, your sibling, though starting at zero is now at an eight. Your sibling is a lot more trustful of others than you are.

The same applies to characters. They begin at one point and as they continue on in life (during the course of the story) they change. The best way to have them change? Let bad things happen to them.

There’s nothing stronger than good characters being forced to take action against bad things. Just as people make mistakes and don’t have the perfect responses to every situation, so do characters. Each action has a consequence, and with each decision a character makes, and each ramification that character must then face, you get to know that character a little bit more.

When you begin a story, there are certain things you must know about your characters.shutterstock_101695738-Medium-491x300

You don’t have to know their souls right off the bat. The essence of a character gets revealed through the difficult decisions they have to make, and you probably won’t be able to figure out what decision they’ll make until they’re faced with it. However, some things to know from the start are:

  • What does your character look like? Age?
  • What’s the first impression they give off? (If a stranger was walking down the street and spotted your character, what impression would that stranger get of your character?)
  • What does your character care most about in the world?
  • What’s their personality at the beginning of the story?

people-with-question-faces-150x150

What your character does and says is a direct result of who they are. If your image of your character is fuzzy, it will be fuzzy for readers.

Like a photograph, make sure your characters are fully developed before you show them off to the world. After all, your characters hold the story together.

How do you get to know your characters?

(Photos courtesy of WallPaperStock, Selling ASAP, and CareerDirections, LLC)

Narrative Structure: Diving Off the Deep End

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “narrative structure?”

For some of you, you probably equate it with a novel’s plot. I tend to like separating out the plot and narrative structure. With plot, you have the main events of a story. Point A leads to point B. Point B leads to point C…you get the idea.

But with narrative structure, you shake up the chronological points of a story. You manipulate the sequence of events to create a better novel.

Why do this?

Because not all events within a story are equal.

Some parts of your story will be critical, pieces that define your characters or that raise the stakes up to an almost unbearable amount of tension. Other scenes will still be important, but they won’t have the same emotional punch that the key scenes will.

Say you have a scene where a car explodes in the middle of a highway, and your protagonist is only three cars away from the explosion. What are you going to focus on? You might give a brief bit of information before the explosion, like your protagonist fiddling with the stereo (better yet, your protagonist just had a horrendous argument with her fiancé and she went driving to cool off), but your focus will be the moment of the explosion (or rather, the moment the protagonist is first effected) and the moments directly after the explosion – the chaos, the effect this event has on your character, your character realizing what happened, the thoughts she has, the decisions/actions she makes, etc.

In it’s essence, narrative structure controls time.

It foreshadows, deals with exposition, flashbacks, and shuffling the novel’s chronology around.

Foreshadowing: warning or indicating future events. Foreshadowing gives glimpses of what’s to come by providing hints. For instance, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms the line, “The leaves fell early that year,” foreshadows an early death.

Foreshadowing is important in fiction because (1) it fosters tension and reader anticipation and (2) everything in fiction happens for a reason.

Exposition: introduces background information (the backstory). Exposition doesn’t advance the plot in the same way action does, but its role is vital. Without exposition it would seem like characters were born on the first page of a novel.

Writers rely on exposition to connect readers to their characters and their story. The essence of a novel lies not only in what will happen, but in what has happened before the novel began.

Flashbacks: a scene in a novel set in the past. Flashbacks accompany backstory and exposition. But while exposition is best given to readers in small pieces, flashbacks are for the moments in your character’s past where a few lines won’t be enough.

Flashbacks are dramatic. They’re the Broadway lights screaming at readers to pay attention because this past event had a monumental effect on the present state of the character or story.

Manipulation of Plot Chronology: Instead of having a novel’s events ordered from A to E, you can mix them up. Have E come first, or have B first. Playing with a novel’s chronological order can create a more interesting story. It can sometimes reveal more of a story. That being said, you don’t want to mess with chronology if you don’t have a deliberate reason for doing so.

Have fun with a novel’s narrative structure. Play around with it. You won’t know your novel’s full potential until you do.

How do you change up your novel’s structure?

Characterization According to Aristotle

According to Aristotle, there are four essentials of characterization:

  1. Characters must be credible. 

Characters must be credible as human beings. In others words, readers have to believe a human being, in real life, would do what a character is doing. In real life, people have strengths and weaknesses. They love and hate. They like certain things and dislike others. Characters needs to be able to evoke emotion in readers, and in order to do that they need to be like us.

  1. Characters must be believable.

Characters must be believable as characters. For instance, character A needs to believable as character A, not B, not C, but A. If readers believe that the action a character commits would be done in real life, but not by that character, then you have a problem. Put differently, characters must be appropriate to themselves. A king and a peasant are two very different statuses, and so they’ll act differently from one and another.

  1. Characters must be consistent.

Characters must be consistent to how you make them. Or, if a character breaks consistency, then it’s a purposeful break and is big news. However, for the most part, characters need to be true to their natures. Their actions are rational, not giant leaps of irrationality. No sudden character changes. I recently read a novel where halfway through I had to stop and wonder what happened because suddenly a few of the characters were completely different. And it was a very sudden transition – one page they were one person and the next page they were completely different.

  1. Characters must be good.

This doesn’t mean that a character can’t have flaws. It’s good for a character to be flawed. Without flaws characters aren’t believable, and perfect characters aren’t usually all that popular. What is meant by “good” is that a character has some capacity for good. If the character is bad or evil, there’s a possibility for redemption – that’s what makes villains so tragic. They have the chance to be good, but they chose to go against that path, whether consciously or not.

And if the character is good, such as the heroine or hero of the story, they can’t be all good. Wickedness is mixed with goodness. People in real life aren’t one hundred percent good or bad. Characters shouldn’t be either.

The best characters are those who are caught in the middle, who struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. They’re the most realistic and the most interesting.

Categorizing Fiction: What’s Each Part All About?

Fiction is a conglomerate of information. It can’t just tell you something. It has to serenade you, pull you in…perhaps romance you a bit. Bottom line: fiction needs to suspend your disbelief.

So, how do we, as writers, go about this?

There are five main ways to categorize fiction. Each way adds to the whole of the story, creating a richer, fuller world.

  1. Narration. This tells you what happened. It’s the meaningful actions that characters do. Narration can sometimes include meaning movements as well.
  2. Description. This deals with details, often sensory details (taste, touch, smell, hear, see). Description includes giving details about people, places, actions, gestures, speaking, etc. It tells “how” something is done, whereas narration tells “what” occurred.
  3. Exposition. This is information that is told by the author/narrator to readers. Exposition has a bad rep (the whole “telling” vs. “showing” concept), but it is necessary in fiction because it provides context, meaning, history, etc.
  4. Dialogue. Spoken words.
  5. Internal. This includes the thoughts and feelings, both immediate and long term, of a character(s). The internal category gets inside the character, and involves a character’s internal reactions to something. For instance, two characters might see the same event, but their internal reactions will be different.

Narration and dialogue speed up the pace of a novel, while exposition, description, and internal slow down the pace. A big part of the reason why all five of these ways are important to include in a novel is because there are times in a story where you want the reader to go fast, and times where you want the reader to go slow.

Some common mistakes:

  • Description. It can be easy to bunch description together. For instance, describing every aspect of a character all at once (hair, eyes, body type, clothing, posture, personality, etc.). When you bunch your description, you (1) don’t include it anywhere else in the novel and (2) create an imbalance. You want to reveal details when they’re important. When you use the right details, at the right time, the story feels organic, connected.
  • Exposition. Just as too much exposition is a mistake, so is too little. There are some things/information you need to know to understand and grow attached to the character. For example, if a story begins in October, maybe the protagonist’s parents died four months ago, and that piece of information would help explain why the protagonist has a drug problem, and create some understanding, maybe even sympathy.
  • Internal. Don’t let your writing get too internal. It can be easy to get lost in a character’s mind, but that can result in readers falling out of the story. Also, sometimes showing or telling is enough. If you write, “She curled up into a ball and cried.” You don’t need to also say, “She was sad.” Readers already know she’s sad because of her actions.

Which of the five ways are you the best at? Which ones should you focus on improving?