Character Development Part 4

Character Development Part 4

We’ve been talking about how to make sure your characters are three-dimensional people rather than Flat Stanley. We have been chatting about the four things that readers learn from novels.

Who

What

Why

Why Not

You know who your characters are now. You know more about them than you did before. You know their past and their idiosyncrasies. You know their biggest fears. You know their physical features and jobs. You know your characters better than you know yourself and all of that knowledge is necessary for you to write them well.

The characters are the who part of this concept. Now let’s look at the what part.

The what part is about what your character wants. It’s the goal part. It’s that elusive thing that your character wants to obtain or accomplish. If your character has no goal, well then, they are a weak and boring character.

What is a goal?

A goal, according to the dictionary, is the result or achievement toward which effort is directed. A goal is your character’s aim. And it is your character’s goal that helps your reader to feel your character’s conflict when they aim to achieve or obtain said goal.

What does your character want?

Think about this. Your character should want what they don’t have. This want should equate to having a determined need. They are desperate for this goal. They just gotta have it, gotta reach it. Failure is not an option. The goal has got to be an urgent thing.

When people need something, they tend to act against their own self-interest. Think addiction (apologies to any with this issue – it’s not my intention to make light). Deep down, people don’t want to be an addict. The issue is that they need the drug (or sex, or cigarettes, or gambling, or whatever). The need is beyond their ability to overcome (in this moment).

The goal has to be important enough that your character will move heaven and earth to obtain said goal. They will endure hardship. They are willing to risk their life. If they fail, life will be more than just disagreeable to them; life will be unbearable. The goal must also be urgent. Urgency is paramount to your character’s goal. Not only must they have this thing, they must have it NOW.

Really?

Yes.

Be thinking about your character’s goal. Next time we will consider what kinds of goals are good ones.

Anatomy of a Scene

Dialogue

One of the easiest and most difficult aspects of creating a work of fiction is writing dialogue. Dialogue can be subtle, memorable, dramatic, and forceful, and is one of the most versatile craft elements. But if not done well it can be stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Note that dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. Monologue is a long speech by a single actor (in a play or movie), and internal monologue is the inner voice or thoughts of a character. Most fiction uses dialogue and internal monologue, but not monologue.

You can use dialogue to pick up the pace of a dull scene, or when you want to move toward action. Dialogue is also great for creating conflict because you can pit one character against another. Well-crafted dialogue is a scene stealer.

Bad dialogue is a scene killer.

Don’t use dialogue as space filler. Don’t make your characters speak to take up space because you don’t know what is happening in your scene. If you do this your dialogue will come off as stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Dialogue in a scene can do a few things:

  • Convey action
  • Reveal character
  • Reveal plot
  • Reveal backstory

You can use dialogue to open a scene, but if you start your scene in the middle of the conversation be sure to write it so that your reader isn’t confused having missed the earlier conversation.

  • Be sure to set your scene so your reader knows what is happening before the conversation starts
  • Be clear on who is speaking to whom so as not to confuse your reader
  • Mix action with dialogue so that you don’t have talking heads
  • Use conflict or opposition in your dialogue so that the conversation is dynamic

When you use dialogue be sure that the conversation happening on the page is important and moves the story forward. Your characters should be speaking for some purpose. Two characters chatting about the weather most likely won’t work for any foreseeable reason, and if you find your characters blathering on about unimportant things that have nothing to do with the story, save them from themselves and delete the conversation. All of it. It’s boring and pointless.

And you know I don’t want your writing to be boring and pointless.

Next time more on dialogue in scenes.

Anatomy of a Scene

 

Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat

Anatomy of a Scene

Setting Intentions

We are continuing our exploration of writing scenes, which includes all the elements that should be in a scene for it to be a successful piece of writing. The ultimate goal of outlining and writing your novel using scenes is that you will complete it with a minimum of wasted time and effort.

This week I thought we would focus on intentions for our scenes. Remember that a scene is a specific place where continuous action occurs in the novel. You can have a scene that encompasses an entire chapter or multiple scenes in each chapter. I prefer the latter option.

A scene should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending which ideally includes some hook to cause the reader to turn the page. Your scene should be set up properly with enough visual clues to allow your reader to see the events of the scene in their mind’s eye. Each scene should include some of the five senses to help your reader become emotionally involved with your characters, and each scene should have enough tension to keep the reader enticed in the story.

Before you write your scene, think about what it is that your protagonist wants. What does your character need? This is important. The character must have an intention when they enter the scene. It could be your character wants to escape from a killer. It could be that your character wants to ask someone for a date. As the author, you should decide whether or not your character will achieve their intention before the end of the scene, or if they will fail. Regardless of failure or success, your character should encounter complications that put a wrinkle in their plans. It is these complications that will build suspense for your reader.

Say for example your character wants to ask someone for a date. They are in a coffee shop and they see the person of their dreams across the room. They get up to approach their dear intended, but they spill their coffee all down their front. Now they must detour to the bathroom and clean themselves up. Your character has failed on the first try. After blotting their shirt with a wad of paper towels they go back to ask their intended for a date. But now, their love interest has a guest at their table. Drats. Oh, wait. It’s your character’s side-kick who always wants to help. Well, that’s good. Except, your side-kick always messes things up for your character. Oh, no. Your character’s love interest jumps up from the table and runs out of the coffee shop. It’s a clear failure.

As the author, it’s your job not to make things too easy for your character. You should know before you write when and where your character will succeed or fail, and when they will encounter complications. Note that you do have to let your character succeed sometimes. Just be sure they don’t succeed all the time.

As you are outlining your new scene you have to make sure that the scene and the scene intention makes sense to your plot. If your story is about monkeys in space, it is unlikely that a scene on dating would be appropriate. Maybe you want to explore what a monkey date would be like. A monkey walks into a bar…but don’t do it unless it truly works for your plot. This tangent would be a waste of your writing time.

When you outline your scene intentions think about who will oppose your character’s goal(s). Is there another person in your character arsenal whose sole motivation is to thwart your protagonist at every opportunity? Should your villain be in the scene? Or is there another person whose sole purpose is to help your character achieve their goals? Yes, this side-kick can help your character, but not so easily, and not too soon. And it may be that this side-kick intends to help your protagonist but their assistance always goes amiss, just as in the coffee date scene above.

Regardless, be sure to make sure that each and every scene in your novel is there for a reason, and the reason is to move the story forward to the end. Don’t waste time.

Remember, there are no dating monkeys in space.

Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited

Anatomy of a Scene

Tension

Happy New Year!

For the last few months, I’ve been talking about writing your novel using scenes. Writing your novel one scene at a time will make you a more productive writer and a better writer.

So let’s jump into it.

We want our stories to have enough conflict and tension to keep the reader turning the page. Tension is exciting and the anticipation of the outcome for the reader is what keeps them reading, and keeps you selling books. Tension is good.

Remember that if your scene has no tension then it will be boring and boring is bad. Each of your scenes must have some tension. The tension can be created through multiple channels such as character action, setting, and dialogue. It can also be generated through plot twists and foreshadowing.

So how do you create tension?

  • Make your character fail.
  • Don’t let your characters accomplish their goals.
  • Create a plot twist.
  • Add emotion to the scene.
  • Get your character in trouble.
  • Make things go wrong.
  • Use foreshadowing to let your character feel uneasy about what they think might happen. And then let the worst possible thing happen.
  • Reveal something unexpected to your character.

The main point is that you want to make it hard for your characters to do whatever it is that they want to do. If you review your scene before and after your write it, and you make sure that whatever can possibly go wrong will go wrong, you have succeeded in adding tension to your story.

There are also other ways to increase tension.

Condense time. If nothing happens for three days in your story and you planned to show your characters sitting around eating bon bons, don’t. That would be boring and boring is bad. Condense time.

Condense information. If the narrator tends to drone on with unimportant detail, condense that information to only that which is pertinent to the story. The information may be interesting to you, but if it doesn’t move the story forward why are you writing it? Condense information.

Think up creative ways to add tension to each scene and you will create a thrilling novel for your reader to devour and that is a good thing.

Next wee: More on writing scenes.

Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited

Anatomy of a Scene

Theme

Happy Holidays everyone! I’ve taken a few weeks to ensure that I met my editorial deadlines, so I apologize for my sporadic posts. Having caught up this week I’m back to continue our conversation about the use of scenes as a way of writing your novel. Focusing your writing and outlining at the scene level helps to ensure that your writing moves your story forward. This week I thought we would talk about adding theme to your scenes.

What is theme? Theme is the main idea that is proven by the end of the story. It’s the underlying message that you want to share with your reader. It’s the central topic, and it usually can be summed up in a word or two, such as “coming of age,” or “the grieving process.”

Usually theme is implied throughout the novel (or movie) rather than stated but the plot directs the reader to the realization of the theme by the end. Imagery and symbolism are often used to reiterate theme.

It’s easier to see theme in movies than it is in books. Let’s look at Monster’s Inc. One of the themes in the movie is “laughter is stronger than fear.” This theme is not stated in the dialogue, nor is it specified in any particular scene. The (very) basic plot line is that a monster employed by a scare factory finds a human child who he must return home but he discovers that his behavior terrifies the toddler so he must help the child to overcome her fear.

The movie shows the monster’s callous behavior, the child’s terror, and the monster’s new outlook on life, and by the end of the movie it is clear that laughter overcomes fear. The writers incrementally showed the theme throughout the film so that by the end the theme was clear.

Adding a theme to your writing adds dimension to your story and makes it more satisfying because the reader will have some deeper understanding of the human condition. Adding a theme to your story will also help to guide you as you outline and write. You will know what fits and what doesn’t fit in your story based on your theme. For example, if you have some aspect of grief as your theme, then every scene should, on some level, explore the theme. If you find yourself exploring happiness you are off track. The imagery you use, the tone, the voice, each of these should reflect your theme. If you have grief as your theme but all of your imagery is sunshine and butterfly kisses, then you are off track. See how that works?

Take some time to think about the message you want to get across to your readers and consider that message each time you start a new scene. Add something that relates to your theme to the scene, and your reader will subconsciously pick up on your theme, even though you haven’t spelled it out.

Next time we will discuss more on theme and scenes.

 

Red apple mourning over death
Red apple mourning over death

Anatomy of a Scene

Motivation

It’s been a few weeks but we are back!

We are continuing our discussion of the topic of scene writing as a way to break down your novel into manageable chunks, and to consider each scene as an individual piece of the whole, but to also incorporate all the necessary elements into each scene as you write them. We’ve talked about the necessary elements in scene beginnings, scene middles, and scene endings. We’ve talked about how to set up your scene so your reader can visualize your story world. And we’ve talked about incorporating your character’s five senses to convey information to your reader about the character and the environment your character moves through.

Remember that each scene should be in your novel for a reason, and should move your story forward. Each scene should have an intention and a purpose. Each character in that scene should also have an intention and a purpose. It is important to note that your scene may have a different intention than your character, and the trick is to write the scene so that each intention is visible to your reader.

So this week, let’s talk about specifics about what your characters need in the scene.

Each scene should provide your character with some information necessary to move the story forward. Your character needs to respond to this information, or react to this information. If no information is provided to your character, or your reader, then why is that scene in your novel? It’s a bit of a test. If nothing is happening for your character on the page, delete the page.

In each scene, your character needs to interact with someone else or something. These other characters or things promote your character’s response or reaction, and it is these responses and reactions that help you to create a complex character for your readers.

Think about what your character’s motivation is in each scene. Your scene intention is generally related to your plot, but what is your character’s intention? What does your character want? Are they in the scene to discover who killed the preacher? Are they trying to discover who their spouse’s lover is? Are they trying to find a way to save the world? Note that your character has, or should have, an overarching motivation for the plot. They may also have smaller motivations as they get detoured from achieving their goals and confront conflict. But, then need a reason to be in the scene, and both you and your readers need to know why they are in the scene. You can also consider your character’s backstory as motivation. What happened in the past that is pushing them forward? What are they trying to overcome? How does your character change from the first scene to the last scene of your novel? How do they grow? Are their beliefs changed? Do these changes alter their motivations over time?

As you build your scenes toward your climax, each scene should also complicate your character’s life in some way. Raise the stakes a little higher. Don’t make it easy for your character to find that pearl necklace. Don’t give them the easy way out. Nothing should be too convenient. Make it hard for your character.

As you work through your last scenes, consider all of the problems, and hardships that your character has encountered, and resolve those. If your character lost their keys in chapter five, they should find them again toward the end of your novel. After the climax, your scenes should be easier for your character to move through. Your character finds answers and solves problems, and saves the world.

Writing scenes seems simple sometimes, but good scenes provide your reader with needed information, and writing the scene with all the elements necessary to provide your reader with a satisfying experience can be complicated at times. Keep at it.

~*~

On another topic, I am hosting RMFW’s annual writer’s retreat in Colorado Springs  April 6-9 and I’d like to invite you to attend. Registration opens October 1st and space is limited. You can find more information about the retreat and register at: http://rmfw.org/writers-retreat/

I hope to see you there.

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Scene Senses

We’ve been discussing scene writing over the last several weeks, including the expectations for what constitutes a scene, what belongs in scene beginnings, middles, and endings, and setting up your scene for your reader. This week we will discuss scene senses.

I like writing in scenes because using scenes breaks the writing process down into small chunks. For some, the prospect of writing a 100,000 word novel is overwhelming, but if you can break that novel down to scenes, and concentrate on writing a single scene of a few or several pages to the best of your ability, then there is much less pressure on the writer. Scenes are also easier to focus on to allow the author to make sure all the writing elements needed are present.

Regardless of which part of the scene you are working on, make effort to infuse your writing with sensory perception details wherever appropriate. If adding sensory information to your writing is not your strength, make a note, or checklist, to remind yourself to review your work after you’ve written your scene. Does your character seem flat? Are there some details missing but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is?

Sight is the most important sense to use in scene writing because the reader must be able to visualize your story world in their mind’s eye. Show important objects that your reader needs to see. Do they need to see the single pearl on the floor next to the body in a mystery novel, for example, or perhaps they need to see the apple with a worm in it? Can your character see the sunlight streaming through the forest that highlights the path of escape? Sight details bring your character’s environment to life and is a requirement is you want to provide your reader a good experience.

Touch is a detail which can be as simple as your character touching the trigger of a gun, or not touching a doorknob because they have a germ phobia. But touch is also represents a full spectrum of information about your character and how they interact with other characters and the world around them. Touch includes your character touching other characters, or touching themselves. Whatever it is that you need to convey to your reader, consider touch as a way to provide some of that information.

Smell can be an intimate or a distant sense. There are good smells and bad smells. You can even use smell to help identify your characters. Does your heroine always smell like roses? Does your villain always smell like stale cigarettes? Do those smells proceed them into the room? Scent and smell can create mood, and show your reader much about your characters. You may want to consider that memories can be triggered by smells, too. How does that affect your character?

Sometimes sound can provide almost as much information about a physical setting as a general description and sight clues. Sounds enhance your scene’s mood, and help to create atmosphere, as well as provides interest to scene setting, where appropriate. Sound also imparts knowledge about your character. What is the quality and timbre of their voice? What about your character’s accent, or intonation?  What about silence? Think about how to incorporate sound into your scenes as a way to add depth for your readers.

Taste is an underused sense (with the exception of erotica and some romance) in most writing. Is food important to your character? What does that food taste like and what does that favorite flavor say about your character? Does the taste of things affect your character’s mood? Does it create conflict if your character does not like the coffee? How can you use your character’s love of a certain taste to give the reader information about that character?

You can look at the senses individually as your work your way through your scene or consider them as a while, and over time the combination of the senses will provide your reader with a in-depth and detailed story world that is irresistible.

Next time: More scene details

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Anatomy of a Scene

Scene Setting

When we discussed scene beginnings a few weeks ago, we said that each scene should have a purpose and an intention, and we mentioned setting the scene as part of the process of scene beginnings. This week we focus in more depth on scene setting.

Scene setting is about giving the reader visual cues of your character’s environment, and/or placing your character at a point in time.

Think of the theater. Scene setting is like setting the stage for a play. Staging for theater is the process of selecting, designing, or modifying the performance space for the actors. You are sitting in the audience. The curtain opens. You see a kitchen table and a knife block filled with knives. An actor is chopping onions and crying. The faucet is dripping with a sound like a ticking clock. Another actor comes in and the scene ends with one of them dead on the stage with a knife sticking out of their chest. The stage designer knows that the props must be visible to the audience before the action takes place, otherwise the audience could miss the clue, and miss the anticipation that the clue provides. The audience must be able to see the knife at the beginning of the scene because the prop will be used in the action, and is important to the state direction.

You are writing a scene where your character is investigating a murder. Your readers (your audience) need to be able to see all the props that will be used in the scene by your characters, as well as all the clues and necessary hints required of the plot.

Your character enters the room and sees a chair in the corner. It’s overturned.

The scent of lilacs wafts through the open window and a sunlight beam reveals a lone pearl on the carpet.

The clock on the mantel chimes three times.

There’s a letter opener on the floor. Mail is strewn across the floor in a line from the desk to the dead body.

From this information your readers can guess that it is 3 PM on a spring day, and that perhaps some information in the mail triggered the murder. You don’t have to tell them this information because you have shown it in your scene setting. Your readers can see the scene in their mind’s eye.

You use scene setting to provide clues to your reader of what the scene look like, smells like, tastes like. You use scene setting to establish a point in time. You use scene setting to provide your character a place to interact with their surroundings, and other characters. You use scene setting to establish mood.

Scene setting is your establishing shot of your movie that your reader is watching unfold as they read. Remember that the visuals are important. Show them your character sniffing the air and wrinkling their nose. Don’t tell them your character doesn’t like the stench of lilac.

Do be careful not to play mysterious and be vague with your reader. If you just say the murder weapon was on the floor, but you don’t show your reader what kind of murder weapon it was, you run the risk of confusing your reader later. Never confuse your reader. Remember if your reader can’t see where your character is or what important thing your character is seeing, your reader won’t be able to internalize your story.

When you consider scene setting always think of your reader. In the scene you are about to write, do they need a visual of the graphic location? Do they need to know the time? Are there cultural references that are important to the story? Do you need to place important objects in the scene? Should there be a salt shaker on the nightstand next to the bed? What about objects that establish the mood like lighting and color? What things are necessary to provide your reader a good visual and provide important information relating to the plot or characters? Those are things you should consider when you begin to set your scene.

Do also be careful not to provide an abundance of useless detail. If your character walks into a room and you describe the intricate wallpaper, and the wallpaper has no relevance to anything related to the plot, don’t describe the wallpaper.  You will bog your reader down or worse. You will bore them. Sure. It’s pretty wallpaper, but unless your character has a penchant for paper don’t do it.

Next week: More scene goodies

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Anatomy of a Scene

Scene Endings

We’ve been focused on scenes, the building blocks of novels, for the last few weeks. A scene is a three-part piece of your novel set in space and time, and should always have a purpose for being included in the novel. Scenes should move your story forward. Always.

Scene endings can allow your reader inhale if your scene has been particularly dynamic, or it can intrigue your reader and force them to turn the page if you have included some hook or dynamic plot twist. The scene ending is the perfect place for your character to summarize what is going on, and gives your reader a way of judging your character’s emotional state, and sum up the conflict. Do be careful not to over use the character summary aspect. It slows the pace of the novel.

You can also use your scene ending to create tension and drama by provide the reader an important revelation that twists the plot, or gives the reader a surprise.  The cliffhanger ending is used because it makes certain that your reader can not know the outcome of the story, and so must keep reading. The cliffhanger leaves your character in peril and creates suspense.

Scene endings can also distance the reader from the events of the scene by providing a visual description, which simply pauses the story to visually show what is. Be sure to include all of your character’s senses. Drawing the reader away from the scene allows the reader to see something visually and can be a good way to end a scene, especially if the character has had much movement. It can help your reader to ground themselves in your character’s space and time.

Sometimes characters will wax philosophically at the end of a scene. This kind of scene ending works best for first person narrative, because the reader is much more inside the head of the character, and also if your novels is character driven rather than plot driven. If your character wouldn’t wax philosophically don’t force them to do this at the end of the scene, however. It will make your character’s behavior suspect to your reader.

Sometimes the ending is just an ending, and there is no need to do any of the above. This scene ending doesn’t need to summarize, or provide new information. It just needs to close the scene so the character or reader can move on. Use this idea to tie up any lose ends of your story. Make sure the scene ending feels final. Keep in mind that this does not mean that this scene ending is only for the conclusion of your novel. Sometimes it is for the end of a relationship, or some other thing which is completed. This scene ending shows your reader the finality of your character’s actions, thoughts, or feelings about a particular moment.

If you think about writing your scenes, each with a beginning, middle, and ending, and you think about what kind of beginning, middle, or ending you want to write based on the information you want to give to your reader, you will discover that your novel will have more of a sense of movement. Scenes help your characters move forward, and keep you, the author, from stagnating on the page by overusing prose. Scenes will keep you from getting sidetracked on things that don’t matter to your story.1677764

Next time: More detail on setting the stage of your scenes…scene setting.