Monday, January 17, 2011

Intimate Storytelling - Part III Revealing Character

How a character moves, sits, responds, and thinks helps the readers know who he is. His actions as well as his introspection and emotions bring him to life and keep him from being a two-dimensional character. The whole idea of intimacy in storytelling has to do with bringing the reader into the story through the character—allowing the character to reveal all aspects of his nature. Skimping on introspection can result in a lack of both emotion and character depth. When readers hear the character’s thoughts, they more fully understand what he is going through. Readers can sense his emotional struggle, relate to the way he plops into a chair or paces the floor or smashes his fist against the wall or a couch pillow. It’s not a wasted action but one that defines the mental state of the character.

In Part II, I mentioned allowing elements of your story to deepen your characterization. I’ve written articles on using the weather or the landscape as a means to do this. Rocky cliffs can reflect the rocky life of the character. A sunny day or a garden of blossoming flowers can reflect the character’s happy or positive mood. Rain on a window or ruts in the road can symbolize a character’s sadness or struggle. A room filled with bric-a-brac and dollies reveals an old fashioned character or someone who is sentimental. A sleek modern setting might reveal someone who is business first, a person in control and unwilling to show his emotions, or afraid someone will get to know the real him. Use it as you will, but allow it to assist the reader in knowing the inner workings of your character more fully.

Use a person’s attire to reflect character. A tomboy girl might wear jeans, a man’s flannel shirt and a baseball cap backward. A woman flaunting her sexuality might wear a low cut neckline and fabric that clings to her curves. A man trying to fit into the business world but not quite making it might wear a suit, white shirt, tie and white socks. A sure giveaway. A woman who wants to avoid being found attractive could wear loose fitting clothing with high necklines. Hair styles, grooming and attire are all means to allow the reader to know the real characteristics of the main characters in your novel.

Avoid using your voice as the characters’ voices. Character should be distinctive so that the reader can tell them apart. One person speaks with a more flowery vocabulary, another talks in short, blunt sentences, and another might use bad grammar and a lot of slang. When using slang or favorite phrases, make sure you’re not using your own favorite words. Create new ones for your characters. Find new ways to describe what they see through their experiences, occupation and lifestyle.

Still no matter how a character dresses, moves, or talks, readers will learn most through their emotional reactions and thoughts.

Part IV will cover sentence and thoughts tags--an important part of keeping your writing intimate with the character.


Janet Kerr said...

Hi Gail,

I am enjoying your series on "character"!

One question: What if I want to use introspection with an evil character and don't want to dwell on his depravity and/or give away that he is indeed the "kidnapper" so that the reader is kept guessing? Is it fair to be in his head but leave this information out?

Thanks for any feedback....

Martha Ramirez said...

Great reminders. I always love to read what you have to say:) So many good tips.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

The situation you mention, Janet, is a unique one. I've used it too when I want to keep the bad guy's indentity hidden. I do use his POV without using his name or identity. You will have to make it a scene alone -- usually short -- and make his voice very distinctive. Have him use certain slang or vocabulary that will help the reader keep him straight. . or maybe his evil way of describing things. Hope that helps.


Sylvia Hubbard said...

u know me Gail, I'm hanging on every word!

This is a wonderful series!!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, Sylvia. I'm always happy to know a series of blogs hits the right spot for writers. Wishing you the best.


Sarah Allen said...

Thanks for the wonderful advice! Character is what drives my writing. I'll keep these tips in mind in my development of them.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Sarah - So glad you found this helpful. Read the blogs I have here on characterization and if I'm missing something you'd like to know please drop me a note. I want to make this blog to meet writers needs as much as I can.


Pamela said...

Congratulations on your success Gail!!