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Part 5 of 5 - Have You Established Your Main Character At The Start?
|Do You Allow Readers To Feel The Character’s Emotions?
What readers will use to feel what your character is going through, whether they have experienced the same or not, are of course their emotions. On what level they will feel the character’s experience will depend on how vividly you describe that experience.
For readers to feel the experience on a deep level, you will have to deeply go into it.
Let's say in your story your character is on a ship. The ship is sinking. We haven’t all experienced that situation but we can imagine what the character is going through because we have all experienced fear.
For the reader to understand that emotion of fear on a deep level…
Describe what the character is feeling. What he’s thinking. What he’s doing.
Develop that emotion…
Develop the fear in your character by making the situation worse. Have him watch people perish around him or jump the ship or have parts of the ship break away from the pressure of the water etc.
Enhance that emotion…
1. Use elements around the character such as deck chairs, which go flying around, or the sails, which come crashing down.
2. Use elements of nature such as the waves of the ocean, which crash against the ship, or use the weather.
Use whatever will enhance that fear in the character and subsequently in readers.
Doing this, readers will live the experience through your character and feel what emotions that experience evokes on a deep level.
If I chose not to develop that emotion and merely stated the situation and emotion…
‘The ship was sinking and the character was afraid.’
I’m stating things matter-of-factly and not allowing my readers to feel what the character is going through. Nor am I allowing the character to go through the experience either.
Characters that fall flat are those who hardly react to things, which happen to them. If your character is developed, he will think, feel, and react.
Emotions are what bond your readers to your character, so take the time to fully develop them in your story.
Have You Given A Brief Description Of The Character’s Physical Appearance?
As your story progresses and readers gradually learn more about the character, that character begins to take shape in their minds.
All writers concentrate on the psychological world of the character and that’s what readers will mostly use to imagine the character. Some writers help their readers further by giving them some information about the character’s physical appearance.
Whether you exclusively concentrate on the character’s psychological world or give some description of his physical appearance as well, it will depend on what your story requires.
I have found that it works best to give readers a complete set of information.
We want our characters to become real to readers and this will happen when they have all the necessary information for the visualization of the character to become a complete picture.
If you choose to mention some aspects of the character’s physical features, how much you disclose will depend on your story. Where physical features are not important, we only mention them briefly for the purpose of readers using them to form the character better in their minds.
On the other hand, if the character’s physical appearance plays a vital role in your story, then you should concentrate on it more.
Your story is about a young man who believed he was very handsome. At every chance given, he would admire his beauty. One day he found himself at a riverbank. As he bent to drink, he noticed his image and fell in love with it. As he bent further to reach that image, he fell into the water and drowned.
In this story, we have to describe what the character looks like because the story revolves around ‘how he believed himself to be beautiful.’ His physical features therefore play a vital role in this story.
Describing the character’s physical features can also give us a better glimpse into his psychological world.
For instance, if your character is depressed and you describe his physical features as having bags under his eyes from lack of sleep, face worn from worry, you give readers a better understanding of his emotional state.
Have you described how your character looks?
Do You Know More About Your Character Than Your Readers?
The reader will see the finished, edited and polished version of your story. What they won’t see is all the work that went into writing it. They won’t see your notes, pieces of information you discarded, your plot and your character’s biography.
And speaking of characters…
Knowing more about your character than your readers doesn’t mean making him up as you go. It means writing a full biography of him before you start.
In this biography, you will figure out everything that is to know about this person. Only when you do this, will you know more about your character than your readers.
You might think that it’s a waste of time writing your character’s biography because you won’t use everything in it. No. You won’t use everything in it, but it needs to be done to get to know your character.
Because only when we know our characters well, can we write about them convincingly, and can convince readers of them too.
If I were to ask you to write about someone you know, a friend or family member perhaps, you would be able to write about him or her convincingly because you know them.
You would know for instance...
What kind of person they are
What personality they possess
How they think
How they act under pressure
What makes them tick
What makes them happy
What frustrates them
Their likes and dislikes
What they want from life
Therefore, if you were to place this person in one of your stories, writing the story will be easy because…
You know them.
Knowing your characters is vital because it is they who will drive the story. We will see the story from their perspective; we will enter their minds and share in their feelings and experiences.
Besides being able to write about the character convincingly, knowing all there is to know about him will enable you to write effectively.
As I said above, you won’t use all the information in his biography, but will select pieces of information that have the most impact for your story. And you can only do this when you have a wide variety of information to choose from.
You’re the creator and as the creator, you must know more than your readers.
Does Your Character’s Background Influence How He Behaves In Your Story?
Our lives are shaped by our backgrounds and past experiences. These mold us into what we are today and continue to mold us as we go through life.
So too will they mold your character and influence how he behaves. When we give our character a life of his own, this means that he doesn’t start living at the beginning of our story.
If he is 35 years old in our story, he would have 35 years of living behind him. And why he’s behaving the way he is now, is a product of all those experiences he underwent in those 35 years.
So in your story we’ll have to see how his background influences how he behaves now.
Let’s see an example of this…
Your story is about a character that does his outmost to be promoted. You show him working hard, you show his ambition, you show his loyalty, but in your story you also show a darker side to him. We see that he doesn’t hesitate to step on a few toes in order to get what he wants.
Now let’s look into his past to see why he’s behaving this way.
He came from a poverty stricken background.
He used to live in a rough neighborhood.
He educated himself, juggling studies, and work.
He always took risks because he didn’t have much to lose.
He has always been a fighter.
He has always dreamed of a better life.
He never let anything get in his way.
Now that we have briefly glimpsed into his past, we understand him better. We understand why he’s ambitious and we understand his less than wholesome nature.
Every person is unique. Likewise, every character is unique.
A character that had two parents would be different from one that lost both parents at a young age.
A character that has been pampered and spoilt would be different to a child who had no luxuries at all.
Our backgrounds do influence who we are. They influence our beliefs, our ideas, and our whole way of thinking. And so your characters background should influence them.
Do You Adopt And Drop Characters At Your Convenience?
Your story will have a main character or two; secondary characters if you need them and extras if again they are needed in your story.
Your main characters will play the major roles.
The secondary characters will play minor roles.
And the extras will only be there to fill in the background.
An example where we would use extras could be if our main character was a teacher and the setting was in a school. For our setting to be believable, it would have to contain children and other staff.
When you’re in the process of writing the story, you have to be careful which character you give the spotlight to.
A high percentage of the time it will be on your main character(s). If a secondary character has something to contribute to the story, then give him the spotlight.
However, we do not give the spotlight to extras because, as I said above, they are only there to fill in the background.
How many characters you choose to have in your story, should be determined in the plotting stage, in order to assign them with their missions.
You don’t, while writing the story, bring in more characters, unless there is a specific reason you are doing this, and drop them again when they have finished their task.
If your character is on a bus and the lady beside him whispers something and you leave it at that, what you’re doing is adopting a character and then dropping them again. Also, because we have given the spotlight to this lady, readers will have questions like…
“Who was this lady?”
“What did she say?”
“What happened to her?”
If your readers have questions once they finish the story, you haven’t tied up all loose ends.
On the other hand, if we remain in the main character’s viewpoint and through it…
See the lady
Hear what she has to say
Read his thoughts as he is thinking about this
Wait to see whether he will reply or not…
Then we’re not giving this ‘extras’ person the spotlight because we are in the mind of the character. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that she appears briefly in our story. And it doesn’t matter that she is not mentioned again, because we have already explained things.
Plan the amount of characters your story will contain.
Be selective whom you give the spotlight to.
Are You Being Repetitive With Your Character?
Because of the limited word length we have to play around with in a short story, it’s best not to repeat yourself. This is a rule you will have to stick to in order to write a tightly written story.
Rules have exceptions.
There are some things about your character you will have to repeat. This repetition you will show in different ways.
If your character is ambitious, you won’t only show it once in your story. You will keep repeating his ambition by…
What he has to say
The situations he is placed in
How other characters see him
We don’t repeat information of how he looks or dresses. We only repeat ourselves for a purpose. In the above example, we repeat ourselves to make it known to our readers that our character is ambitious. Because it’s his ambition that drives our story.
Information can be repeated in our stories when there is a purpose for it.
Do You Use Body Language?
Showing is better than telling because when you show, readers do some of the work, and that allows them to participate in your story. Using body language is a way of showing.
Two characters are engaged in conversation. One keeps glancing at his watch.
We don’t need to tell readers that the character is in a hurry. We are showing this from the character’s body language.
Body language includes…
• Facial expressions
• The posture of the body
• Tone and quality of voice
• The way space is used around us.
Let’s look at a few more examples…
If the character raises his eyebrows, what are you showing readers?
That the character is surprised? Disbelieving? Taken aback?
If the character waves at another character, what are you showing readers?
That he’s waving to grab someone’s attention? That’s he’s waving goodbye?
Your readers will understand what your character is trying to convey through his body language, when they take into account the overall story.
Body language is a good way of showing. Use it in your stories.
Do You, Or Your Characters, Philosophize Too Much?
If you find yourself wondering from subject to subject, stating your views on life and your beliefs, then chances are, you’re writing about nothing in particular.
A short story is about a character or characters and an event or situation, which you choose to concentrate on and write a story about. A story has a beginning, middle, and an end.
I have read many ‘stories’ where the writer pours her little heart out or has her character do it for her. The ‘story’ usually begins with a plot, which the writer loses somewhere along the way, as she wonders aimlessly from one thing to another.
A lot of interior monologue about subjects, which have nothing to do with the story, doesn’t keep readers hooked on your story – they are actually bored by it.
Readers want action. They want things to happen in your story. And their interest is only going to be maintained if you keep to the subject and not wonder aimlessly all over the place.
Remember, readers are after a good story to pass the time. They aren’t particularly interested in what you think of life.
Is Your Character Memorable?
A memorable character isn’t one we forget two minutes after reading the story. It’s one that will remain with us for a while – perhaps forever. How many such characters can you recall?
Bring the character to mind that made the most impression on you. What struck you most about that character?
Was it their exceptional personality?
Their remarkable physical appearance?
How alive they seemed in the story?
What you find memorable about a character may differ to what other readers find in him. So how can you consciously write a memorable character to cater to everyone’s taste?
Because it’s impossible to please everyone.
What you can do though, is to build your character to the best of your ability. Make him so real that he’ll remain in your readers’ minds for years to come. Make him interesting. Make him intriguing. Make him larger than life.
What the readers will come to feel about him, will depend on the readers’ individual tastes. But you can help your character become memorable to them by breathing life into him.
Introduce an interesting character in the beginning of the story and keep the readers’ interest hooked by developing him further. Bring him more to life as you go.
If readers remember your character, they will also remember your name, the next time they are shopping for a short story.
Do You Feel Strongly About Your Character?
As you write the story do you find yourself captivated by your character?
Do you feel he’s driving the story?
Is he alive in your mind as you are writing about him?
If we take the time to build characters thoroughly, they become more than characters - They become someone we know. In addition, when you know your character well and place him in situations you will know how he will react. When he speaks, you will know what he will say and how he will say it.
All we have to do is build them until they become real in our minds and their personalities will lead us to write the story.
But we have to be careful not to leave them too ‘loose’.
When we breathe life into our characters, they tend to take over the story. This is where you have to be careful not to allow them to say more than you want in your story. Let them tell their story but restrict them only to what is needed.
So building your characters is essential to make things easier when writing the story.
When the preparation stage is over and you are ready to write, you should feel strongly about your character. He should already be ‘alive’ in your mind.
It doesn’t matter whether he is a good person or a bad person in your story. Feeling strongly doesn’t mean liking him in that sense.
You don’t have to agree with your character’s views, beliefs, or actions. You just have to know him well in order to write his story convincingly.
Feeling strongly about your character drives you to write the story. It fuels you with the motivation and the enthusiasm to keep that drive going for days, weeks or months to see your story through.
Whatever feelings are aroused in you about the character, have to be determined in the plotting stage. Sometimes when we plot and build the character, we find that they don’t suit each other. Other times we build the character and find our feelings about him are so-so.
In either case, we shouldn’t start writing about this character. If the enthusiasm isn’t there in the plotting stage, it won’t be there in the story.
You will have to feel strongly about your character to write about him convincingly.
About the author:
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com
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