Thursday, July 7, 2011

Living, Breathing, Characters

Writing a novel plunges a writer into another world. It demands that you become so intensely immersed into the lives of your characters, and I mean all of them, minor and major, that they become living, breathing, people to you. If you do this, you will develop your characters fully. You will 'flesh them out' and your readers will grow attached to them.

Writing good fiction is not a formula. Formulas do not necessarily create a page-turning story. What does is vivacious characters caught up in intrigue and crisis. What e
xactly makes up your characters and brings them to life?

Describing their appearance
Showing actions that reflect their personality

Let's start with dialogue. This is a conversation between characters that gives the reader insight into the characters' lives, personalities, likes and dislikes, their past, future goals, opinions, and concerns. It should flow naturally, but with emotion, whether intense or stoic. Dialo
gue is the best way to reveal a character's past instead of using either backstory or flashbacks. Watch a movie in your genre and listen to the dialogue between the characters. Listen to a conversation between people in your presence. How did her husband explain why he forgot their anniversary? How did the wife reply?

When it comes to describing your characters, give the reader just enough information that allows them to paint a picture in their mind of them. If you have trouble with this try this technique. Go online and look at a portrait. If your book is historical find a portrait of the past. If contemporary find a photo that reflects your character as you see him or her.

Say you are writing a historical and your female character is a beautiful woman of the Renaissance. She is totally stuck on herself due to her beauty...and possibly her wealth and family status in society. The painting here is called 'Vanity' by artist Frank Cowper 1907. Write down what you see about this woman. Her hair - its texture, color, and length. Her skin which is luminescent and pale. The strings of pearls, how she has looped them through her fingers. Her eyes, how they are looking downward, not shyly, but arrogantly. The curve of her mouth and the tilt of her head. Flesh this character's appearance out and give your reader a strong visual of what she looks like, and how her looks reflect her personality of vanity and arrogance.

Please share your description of this young woman, and let's compare notes. Each of us will see her differently, I guarantee.


Jan Cline said...

It takes practice, but I think Im coming to understand this principle. I was always afraid I was going to bore the reader with details, but then I remember how much I like descriptive work.
Thanks for the reminder.

aarbaugh said...

Thanks, Rita. I'm working on the first novel and need all the advice I can get. I'll keep this in mind when I'm out running around this weekend. It's not "eavesdropping", it's "research"!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

Thanks for clarifying my thinking about some issues.

I have a distaste for formulaic writing. It's one reason I've had an aversion to plotting my novels. You helped me to see that involvement with the characters is key to breathing life into the story.

Susan :)

Annette said...

Great information, thank you.