Monday, January 30, 2012

Character Counts

When you or I write or read our stories and books, we usually find ourselves responding first to the character who is supposed to give that story its life.

One of our Author Contributors here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, Anne Greene, has a great writing tip  that involves the character you decide to write about, and why this is so important to the making of a good story.

Join me, and let's see what Anne has to say.

By Anne Greene

                An actor climbs inside the character he portrays to make that character real. In the same way a writer must get inside the character’s head and become that character in order to make him real. A writer must see the created world through the character’s eyes. Some people call this deep point of view. I prefer to call this becoming the character.
                To become a written character is more difficult than it sounds. We’re a generation of movie goers. We watch characters doing things on the big screen. We are outside their bodies. Yet we don’t have to be told what their actions mean, the characters show us. But, we are not inside their heads. And that is exactly how many writers portray their characters. From the outside.
                But to make a written character real, the writer must show his motivations, emotions, thoughts, decisions, and how he experiences the created world around him. So, how does a good writer accomplish this? Here are a few suggestions.
                Basic one: never use the words saw, felt, smelled, heard, thought, said, etc. For instance, rather than saying she smelled smoke, write the smell. Acrid wood smoke coming from the direction of the house, raised the hair on the nape of her neck. Rather than she felt, write what she felt. Chills spidered down her spin. Rather than saying she heard, write the sound coming to her ears. Over the muted roar of traffic, the clear, sweet tone of bells ringing brought a smile to her face. And so on—you get the idea. And, it’s redundant to write the emotion after you have gotten inside the character’s head to experience it.
                I personally find getting inside the character rewarding. But I’m still not proficient. Becoming a character isn’t easy. But, once your inside your character you won’t make the mistake of author intrusion (dumping information the author wants the reader to know) because you’re character would never do that. Nor will you be adding unnecessary tags that jerk the reader out of the character’s head. Tags like she said, she thought, etc. that remind the reader they are not actually experiencing the story.
                Basic two: Becoming the character adds emotion at the same time the action occurs. Weave in the sights, sounds, scents, fears, thoughts from inside the character and the reader experiences the same reactions as the character. And, of course, when the writer is the character, she will seldom describe her physical looks or mention her own name. A character named Amy would never say-Amy twirled a strand of her honey-blonde hair around her pink-tipped nail. She would more likely say-tapping one finger in a staccato rhythm against the battered desk, she pulled at a strand of her hair.
                Basic three:  Being inside the character cuts down on unnecessary adverbs. Instead of saying, she shouted angrily, get inside the character. She slapped his lean cheek. “I meant what I said.” Let the character’s body language take the place of adverbs.
                So my advice to writers is: BECOME THE CHARACTER.     
Copyright 2012 Anne Green
Masquerade Marriage
A Texas Christmas Mystery


  1. You know I will become my character so well you won't tell who the author is. I enjoyed your insight about weaving your own emotion into your character. And I sometimes try to stray from calling them characters as much as I want to craft real people in my stories.

    This really helped me. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Anne. I have sat in my chair, so into my character's head that I've laughed, or cried, or scared myself. At other times, the writing just doesn't cut it. And those times are when I'm not viewing life as though I were one of my fictional people.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Wonderful advice, Anne! I completely agree. I can always tell, when I'm writing outside my character's head because the writing sounds too much like a description. It feels apart from me...whereas, when I'm truly being my character, the words I write work, and I get completely lost in my character's world. Excellent post!

  4. I agree. Great post. So important to get inside that head. Makes that POV come so much easier.

  5. Great post on deep POV, Anne - it's a technique I love, though, I always have much to learn! god bless.

  6. So true, Anne... which I find harder and harder to do the more books I write. POV, no problem, but the emotion? Heavens, that's something else, again.

    A trick that has worked for me is a total emersion sort of thing, where I find music that relates to certain scenes that jump-start those necessary feelings. The more I listen before writing, it automatically triggers that "let's-get-with-it" writing button.

    For instance, once when I was working on a WWII saga, I listened to nothing but Benny Goodman dance music, and BBC news broadcast recordings for that actual time. The only drawback was the Captain got sick of eating so much corned beef and cabbage, and me traipsing around in Depression-era aprons in the kitchen. Personally, I absolutely love getting into different characters...

    Wonderful post!