Grant: ‘Letting his feelings out, however…
Not so easy.
Especially since he had no idea how to change a habit of more than thirty-five years’ duration. His parents’ examples had taken with a vengeance. But was it right to saddle his little girl with a trait that, if he were being honest, hadn’t served him nearly as well as he’d once thought—’
Mia: ‘Loath as she was to admit it, she liked the man, her reservations about their long-term compatibility notwithstanding. It was a hoot watching him shed his emotional armor, bit by bit. Watching that tiny seed of something good and solid she’d recognized long ago finally take root in his growing love for his little girl, and start to blossom.’
Besides plotting woes this week, I want to talk about a subject that is becoming an obsession for me. In my quest to write that first one (or the 100th) book that will make you cry, laugh, scream and/or sigh, I have taken to paying special attention to how writers dig into their characters psyche.
And, one of my favorite authors, Karen Templeton has a knack for knowing her characters inside and out and letting us see who they are as well. As you can see with Grant Braeburn in these excerpts above from her Silhouette Special Edition 2007 Christmas release, Dear Santa. Karen has a talent I admire, and strive to acquire in my own writing. I won’t say I’m her stalker (she’d just laugh, anyway), but if I could name just 3 people who’s writing I buy on name alone- she would be one of those three. Holly Jacobs would be another. The third?
When I read the mss I’ve completed over the years (those gems I reserve for my eyes only- because they are immune and won’t bleed from exposure!), I cringe and groan. I wrote this? Ugh! There is no depth and person under the words on the paper. I see opinions and a shell of what might be-if I wanted to rewrite every single line word for word, and which I do NOT- had I known anything about ‘really’ writing when I created those Frankensteins. So, why is it I still get nailed by my Twinkies for doing the same things? Because bad habits are hard to break!
Who the heroine and hero is is huge! If I don’t know who she/he is, what she/he feels, smells and hears- then how can I expect to tell ‘her/his’ story completely? I can’t.
Actors and actresses do role play where they become their character before a new movie, and some actually go so far as to get a job (usually volunteer) when possible in the line of work as their character.
It’s crucial to think like him when in his POV (and hers), speak like him, by which, I mean dialect as well as mannerism while speaking (does he talk with his hands?), tone, accent, whatever. Now, do a gorilla dance, ooh-ooh around a bit if it helps you to feel manly and unfeminine, and then write his parts while in his head.
How would he talk, what ‘lingo’ identifies him from any other man in your story- most important, what separates him from her?
When a reader picks up a book they usually know within the first few pages when the hero is speaking/thinking, and when the heroine is. They know who the same way we do. The reader ‘hears’ their voice because you’ve allowed them to by the speech patterns, mannerisms in actions you let them see as they read. I can’t stand a book where the h/H sound exactly alike and I don’t know who’s saying/doing/thinking what- because there’s no voice difference in either from the writer. I call those monotone characters, y’know, like the guy who does those eye drop commercials? Think of him reading a whole romance (or any other genre) aloud to you! And yes, I have read at least one of those a few years back. And I DO NOT want to write like that. Maybe that’s why I try so hard now and dig deeply to really know my characters.
I read books with one eye on the story and the other on the craft. Very irritating when it’s a great story and my roving left eye starts picking a particularly captivating scene apart to see how and why it works. Usually these eye-stoppers are due to the heroine or hero and the way the author portrays something about that character.
I ask (ok, I hound…sometimes…sorry girls) my critique partners to ‘dig in and let me see’. Maybe a heroine got a bad letter and she’s shocked to tears…let me see. I want to identify with her, empathize, sympathize with her; BE her!
I remember my first ‘real’ ms and the critique it received from my two partners at that time. I’m surprised I didn’t shove it in the fireplace and ball up in a corner and go zombie on them! But, I finished it and submitted it. Thanks to those two great women and the time (and I’m sure- pain) they spent helping me. What was my biggest lesson that year? Dig in! Rip the hero’s, and heroine's, guts out and dissect them, and then stuff them back in in a way the whole world can see how it works.
I didn’t get it. Isn’t that what I was doing? Apparently not because every returned crit said the same thing in one form or another! Until I finally got it.
If my heroine’s crying, I need to make my readers cry with her. Pour her soul out on paper and ink in words that show her pain, humiliation, happiness, or fear. I love weaving those random words into flesh and(paper) people; making them come to life because I created them and love them and want others to also! Although I still can’t seem to make anyone cry with my h/H I keep trying, and if a reader feels at all, then I’m doing something right, I think.
The usual way to accomplish this showing is to let that character tell it in dialogue, or thought-as in the first example above. In that scene his ex wife, the mother of his 3 yo daughter had died and he’s going for a walk with his daughter. Their relationship is stilted, and that’s being nice, because he’d been raised without outward affection and was afraid to show any for a little girl who was suddenly thrown into his life full time. He was scared of her, and she had little trust in him. After getting told how lousy he was as a father (several times) by the heroine he realized Mia was right about so many things in him. He had to deal with everything or risk losing his baby girl who he’d just began to realize he loved more than anything in the world.
The other way to show is to let another character do it with dialogue, as in the scene when Mia told Grant his daughter couldn’t let go and grieve for her mother when she’s never been given permission to: “How can she when her own father is so damn afraid of his own emotions”
And then she shows us more about Grant in the example above. Mia has her thoughts on Grant’s progress toward being a perfect father so we see him as others do.
**Note: As a special bonus, we also see her charming humor in seeing the funny side of his discomforting situation.
There are several ways to ‘see’ a character, but just one way to ‘tell about’ him. I’d rather be Little Red Riding Hood on all her forest adventures, than to hear about her and miss those adventures! Wouldn’t you?
What’s your favorite part of writing? I'd love to hear about it.