We all want to immerse our readers into our story as much as possible. To this end we need to ‘carry’ them through the experience with as little actual word usage as possible. An overly complicated or wordy sentence or paragraph, can take them out of the situation you have drawn them into. This can be accomplished by using descriptive words.
The definition of descriptive is: evocative, expressive, vivid, graphic, eloquent, colorful, explanatory, illustrative.
This is quiet the list, I’m sure you agree, but we can expand on. A single word can encapsulate a mood, a feeling or a condition, which enables us to create without too much exposition or explanation.
In the revision process of any piece of work, tightening up the exposition ensures the story keeps pace, and large sections can be refined into their essential elements. In using words, such as clammy, for instance, our readers are instantly aware of our character’s physical state without losing the impact of the narrative. In other words -using these descriptive words keep our narrative sharp.
Careful word usage is a learned skill for many and delving into our dictionary and thesaurus on a regular basis enables us to use words to their best affect. For example, if we did not use clammy, we would need to describe cold but sweaty skin, light-headedness, damp beads of perspiration – a lot more words for the same condition and an overly descriptive sentence or paragraph can lose our reader’s attention. We certainly don’t want that.
Use of the thesaurus on our word document screen can assist us, but does have it’s limits. A good dictionary & thesaurus are a good investment for any writer. There are specific thesaurus as well. For example, I have an emotional thesaurus, which is a great tool.
Take your time while revising any written piece to identify descriptive words that would sharpen it. They are a writer’s best friend, so use them often. The more you investigate words the more you will find that can sharpened your work.
Whether you spend time intricately plotting and creating your story line or let the story flow unbidden, one facet of all stories that must be created and created well are its characters. Your protagonist, antagonist and all the supporting characters have a ‘job’ to do. They must give our readers an insight into their personalities, their struggles, ambitions and fears. Characters build the ‘world’ you have set your characters within by showing it through their eyes, their thoughts and actions.
Every writer has his or her own methods, when it comes to the creation of a character.
For example, Setting: an alien being trapped in a spacecraft, a monster hunting its prey or specific behavior traits for period pieces.
Physical features: This primarily gives our readers an image but more importantly an idea of their personality. A thin, acne-faced teenager will not automatically give our readers the idea of a ‘superman’ kind of personality but a muscle bound, athletic type could.
Name: a good starting point for our creation, but it is also a minefield. Research into real persons, living or dead should be foremost, unless of course you are writing about that particular person.
Accent: a character’s voice says a lot about their location and background.
Real people or not: We can base characters on people we know or a combination of several or from people watching – an author’s favorite pastime. As writers situations, overheard conversation and life in general is a constant source of inspiration.
There are numerous ‘character development work sheets’ available on the Internet and it can be useful to fill them in for your main characters, if you have no clear ‘picture’ of them to begin with.
I tend to write the story letting my characters dictate how their story will unfold. In so doing the characters develop creating their own story. This tends to change the narrative from my initial perception. In this way they may develop characteristics I had not considered or react quite differently to a situation from my preconceived idea. This method may seem harder than having a detailed description of each pivotal character, their backstory and emotional compass, but it is my method.
We ‘live’ with our characters for a long time and they become ‘real’ to us. This enables us to write the story with ‘insider knowledge’ of our characters backstory, their emotional compass and their ultimate goal. This knowledge becomes paramount during the subsequent drafts and editing process, giving us a well-rounded character and a believable one for our readers. In truth, the initial draft is the testing ground for our characters, and revisions make them well rounded and ‘believable’.
How do you create your characters?
Recognize these characters? Remember how irate poor Wile E Coyote would become with Road Runner? No matter what he did he never succeeded in catching his ‘dinner’. Beep, beep would ring out as yet another ACME kit damaged the coyote instead of the bird. It was truly a lesson in perseverance. No matter how many times the speedy bird escaped the coyote he would try, try, try again. I actually went past a road sign to Acme on my way to Canmore one time and wished I could have made a detour just for the fun of it.
The art of creating such lovable and memorable characters is what every author strives for. We hope our creations will stay in our readers minds long after the last page has turned. Character profiles and back story play a large part in ensuring our characters are well rounded and believable. We delve into their personality type seeking out traits and habits to make them react to their crisis situations in an authentic way.
Do you make up scenarios for people you observe? Have any made it in to a manuscript?
Without characters our stories would have no real impact on our readers. We write to engage and intrigue them and hopefully make our protagonist the character our reader cares about. If your experience is anything like mine, there is usually one, or possibly two characters, that make their presence known in no uncertain terms. They want the starring role in our narrative. These characters are usually more defined in our minds and are ‘easier’ to relate to, whether because of a personality trait or that they are more fun to write. When creating the protagonist and antagonist in our stories, we give each opposing views and/or values. This is the basis of the conflict that carries our readers along their journey. Each character, whether major or minor, needs to have flaws and redeeming features, motivations, expectations, loyalties and deterrents.
With such a guideline our characters become clearer. A lot of the details will never reach the pages of our manuscript but knowing our characters well makes for a more believable personality as they struggle through the trials and tribulations, we subject them to. As most of you know I am a ‘free flow’ writer so everything is by the seat of my pants until the editing starts. This is where I find character flaws or great character traits that I can correct or build upon. My characters live with me during the writing process and usually lead me in directions I had never considered – I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As these personalities gain strength they become more ‘real’ and that is the moment their true selves appear.
When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters. For example this sheet.
It is part of the art of story writing to describe our characters in such a way our readers can make up their own mental image of them. The trick is to ensure you give your reader enough description without over doing it and boring them – or worse still taking them out of the narrative.
What devices do you use for characterization?
This link from James Thayer is awesome for characterization points:
When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters. Here are a few examples but obviously you can tailor make your own depending on your genre.
With such a guideline our characters become clearer. A lot of the details will never reach the pages of our manuscript but knowing our characters well makes for a more believable personality as they struggle through the trials and tribulations we subject them to. As most of you know I am a ‘free flow’ writer so everything is by the seat of my pants until the editing starts. This is where I find character flaws or great character traits that I can correct or build upon. My characters live with me during the writing process and usually lead me in directions I had never considered – I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As these personalities gain strength they become more ‘real’ and that is the moment their true selves appear.
Do you have any tips regarding character profiles or character building?
Nadir – definition: 1) the lowest point; 2) the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith and directly under the observer.
Aurora Borealis observed in Norway on 2006-10-28. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I could relate star gazing experiences or the fantastic moments I have witnessed the aurora borealis here in Alberta but my mind went to the characters and parts of a story we can overlook. When we are engaged in writing about our main characters and their story they are our primary focus. We can neglect what is literally under our noses. The interaction with secondary characters can be an artful way of enhancing our main character. Their reaction to someone else will illustrate their personality more effectively than using endless descriptions. Of course secondary characters can also be important in their own right not only implementing momentum in the story arc but also as individual characters with their own ‘lives’ that are affected by the circumstances they and our main character find themselves in.
Even the smallest detail can eject your reader from a scene. Would a historically set story really have burgers on the menu? Would a character wear a wristwatch? This is where research is vital for accuracy and to ensure your reader totally believes in the world your characters inhabit. The choice of weapons, clothing and social conventions build your world making it all the more believable. A Victorian lady would not go on a girls night out but entertain a few friends in the parlour during the day. A space commander would probably not spend his evenings knitting. Pirates use a cutlass, an alien a laser.
No matter your genre, your world building must have rules, structure and conventions that your hero is fighting to maintain or struggling against. Their methods and actions must reflect what is available to them and most importantly it must be believable.