We live in a world where television shows and movies play a big role. How many hours of television or movies have you watched in the past year alone? With having so much experience watching, we are accustomed to the style of movies and television. We recognize the elements within film and TV, and expect them. In many ways this has transitioned over to literature.
Many authors now write novels keeping in mind their novel’s ability to be adapted into script. Writers pay attention to the visual elements of a scene. What makes a great scene? What makes a scene flop? Can you picture where each character and prop is within a scene?
Film and TV have only a short amount of time to relay all the important information. They have to grab your attention and hold it. Plus, they have to make viewers feel the emotions occurring within each scene based on character movement, expressions, etc. Added to that, they have to have specific set directions, to know where each character and prop in the scene is.
There are certain steps you can implement to create a very visual, riveting scene.
Think about POV. If you think of your point of view as the camera, imagine where the camera needs to be for each scene. This doesn’t mean POV has to change, rather your POV character is in the optimal position in each scene to see the vital elements occurring within that scene.
Know your key moments. Each scene gives readers something, whether it’s new information or a new insight based on old information. Scenes have to move the story along, and within each scene are specific moments. Without these moments a scene cannot occur. Think of each moment as a different camera shot, and all the camera shots add up to a scene.
Pay attention to sensory details. What sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations are important to the scene? It’s a good idea to have at least two senses stand out in every scene. Are there trains nearby? How about the smell of lavender? Or the feel of the humidity pressing in, warning of a coming storm? How about color? In film and TV, color is very important. Each color connotes a different meaning. Infuse the scene with time and place, weather, texture, etc. How do these sensations relate to the character, the story?
Within commercial literature, readability and visualization are vital. Thinking like a filmmaker will help bring those elements to the forefront of the story. Making deliberate choices as to camera angle, which sensory details are placed within the scene, which camera shots are used and the order they’re placed in, POV, etc. all create a specific environment that adds to the story, a story that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading it.
What is your opinion on thinking like a filmmaker?
What comes to mind when you think about characters in fiction? How about your characters? How do you reveal them to readers?
Creating characters readers care about is an essential step to creating a successful novel. It’s not only a character’s physical description. In fact, what a character looks like is only a very small part of creating a compelling character, and probably one of the least important aspects to a character. (Think about it. When you and your friends read the same novel and then talk about it, how often do they picture the characters the same way you did? I know my imagination adds to characters. I’ve even had it where a novel says a guy has black hair, and yet I still picture him blond.)
Here are some ways to reveal a character to readers:
Voice. What a character says and what they don’t say tells you something about what that character is like. Also important is how a character says what they say. Think about the statement, “I love it.” If spoken flatly that statement means something very different than spoken excitedly.
Action. What a character does in a given situation, or what they don’t do. Action is character. Actions carry more meaning than words. People can say anything. It’s easy to speak, but it’s what a character does that’s truly revealing.
Background. A character’s background. I.e.- occupation, family, where he’s from, era, significant events of the past and how he handled those situations, culture, religion, economic situation, gender, race, individual skills and society’s evaluation of those skills, his philosophy of the world (how he views the world), etc.
A character’s reaction to significant events in his life is telling. Multiple people can experience the same event, but each individual reacts differently. Most people have lost a loved one sometime during their life, yet not everyone breaks down in tears or shuts down emotionally, or smiles and seems like nothing’s wrong.
There’s a quote a professor once shared with me. It sums up the previous paragraph. “Not every male who’s close to their mother ends up like Norman Bates.”
Internal World of the Character. What a character fears or wants in the larger sense. This relates back to last week’s post on internal pressure, where a character weighs his fear of a situation against the possible outcomes or gains from overcoming his fear.
Exposition. This is what you tell the reader. Exposition provides context about the character directly to the reader. This is a vital part of creating a compelling character; however don’t go overboard with exposition. Telling a reader something is good, as long as you don’t forget about also showing the character to the reader.
When creating a compelling character, you need something to tie all the pieces together. Characters, just like people, are made up of a ton of different parts. There’s a reason many consider humans puzzles. But just as puzzles can be put together to form a whole, so must a character. If a character isn’t whole, then his actions won’t make sense.
How do you go about creating compelling characters?