To accompany my post on Thursday about character development, here are two posts with two different views on the subject. In Leah Meahl’s post on the Christ is Write blog, she offers different ways to get to know your characters from the inside out. Henry McLaughlin writes in his post on the Write Conversation how he did elaborate background work on his major characters, but let his secondary characters develop as he wrote.
So how do you like to develop characters? Are you a plotter — do you have to know everything about your character before you start your first draft? Or are you a pantser — writing by the seat of your pants, allowing the characters to grow with the story? Or do you have a combination of strategies?
… a sledding scene. For me, sledding is pure joy. It’s a simply activity that provides an astonishing amount of delight. I can’t be depressed if I’m sledding.
Here’s my description:
“As I climb the hill for the fifth time, the cold air is sharp in my lungs. But with a big grin, I reach the top. Squinting against the brilliant sun, I scan the slope, waiting for the other sledders to get out of the way at the bottom. I sit down on my sled, propelling myself with my hands. The snow crackles under my mittens. Smoke from a nearby fire lends the air a cozy smell. I build my speed and zip down the hill, snow flying as fast as the laughs of the sledders. Skidding into a field of weeds, I cover my face with my mittens. The sled grinds to halt. I breathe, staring at the a sky bluer than the sea. Then I’m on my feet, running up the hill.”
Do you ever feel like a casting director when it comes to finding characters? You know what kind of a character you need but just can’t make him or her work. When that happens to me, it may mean I haven’t developed the personality enough, but more often, it’s because I can’t see him or her in my head.
For major characters, I have to see them as clearly as I do my family. Then I can get under their skin and know their personalities and motivations like my own.
The physical appearances affects the character’s personality. If I can’t get that right, the character doesn’t work. I get the same feeling when I am watching a show and I don’t buy the character because the actor is miscast in the role. As author, I can’t make just any character work in any role.
In my YA novel, I knew I wanted Junior, my main character, to have a fifteen-year-old brother Merritt. Merritt needed to be optimistic and easy-going to contrast with Junior’s worry-prone, intellectual personality.
Originally, I imagined Merritt as slim, blond, with a sparse mustache, But with those looks, he kept changing into a nervous, eager-to-please character, like his cousin Gabe. I couldn’t have two characters with the same personality. But I couldn’t force Merritt to be what I wanted, either, even though he was imagined.
So I changed his appearance. Merritt is still fifteen and thin, but now he’s half-European, half-Native American with shaggy black hair and midnight blue eyes. And he behaves like an easy-going optimist. I also like his ethnic background because it reflects the melting pot culture of America.
Why this change works, I can’t say. But when other characters have been problems, it is often because I don’t have an appearance that jives with their personality. The two must mesh for me to write about him or her comfortably.
How do you cast the characters of your stories? Or what do you do with a character that won’t behave?
The two books shown above helped me tremendously in understanding “show, don’t tell”. They are easy to read, not expensive, and give detailed explanations about what “telling” prose is versus “showing” prose.
Janice Hardy’s book is the longer of the two, and the one I read first. Author and agent Tess Emily Hall recommended it. Ms. Hard cover many topics that come under “telling” prose — point of view (POV), narrative distance, backstory, info dump, and more.
What I found most helpful were lists of words that usually indicate a writer is engaging in “telling”. An appendix conveniently gathers all these word together.
Her chapter “Things That Affect Telling” takes the same paragraph and rewrites it in “showing” prose from first-person POV, third-person single POV, and third-person omniscient POV. She dissects the differences in the writing styles, and that kind of examination is what I really needed.
I found the chapter “Write Lively, Linear Prose” to be the most helpful. Sometimes, because writers know how all the action is going to end, they write it in the wrong order.
An example from Rivet:
“The hot, stuffy air caused my head to spin.”
If I was writing in deep POV, showing, not telling, I would describe first the character noticing something wrong with his head, then have the character pinpoint the cause. I am paying close attention to the order of my action, so I don’t put the cart before the horse.
What sources have you found that teach “show, don’t tell”?
Snow day! What kid in a public school hasn’t been thrilled to hear these two words?
We always know at the second ring if the school is delayed or cancelled. The school uses a programs that calls all the devices parents’ register. So when all the phones are singing and ringing like an orchestra, my kids know it’s good news.
What are snow days like fore you? Or what is your favoriting snow day memory?
If this prompt inspires you, please share some of that inspiration below!