I started reading a new paranormal novel last month that I had high hopes for based on how quickly and easily the first few chapters hooked me. The plot was refreshing, unique, and action-filled from the beginning. Interesting, quirky characters reeled me in. But it quickly went downhill from there.
I’m the type of reader who usually doesn’t give up on a book. I always have faith that the author will pull out of the temporary bog and finish, if not strong, at least well. I have only given up on two books in my life. My new paranormal novel was the third.
What went wrong? Read more
One of the most important things we must not do to readers is bore them or stop the flow of the story. In my recent post, How not to write a story, I shared agent Margaret Bail’s tips and writing don’ts.
Here are several other points she and other agents, editors, and workshop presenters made during a panel discussion at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference.
Character description. A common but ineffective way to describe your character is by having her look in a mirror or other reflective surface and describe what she sees.
Successful writers know not to “info dump” on their readers. In other words, they don’t stop the flow of their story to give the reader paragraphs or pages of detailed information.
Information dumping or fire hosing, as I like to call it, slows down the story, the narrative, and everything else. When I come across a book that stops to describe, in great length, a new character—everything from their looks to their clothing—I cringe. If it happens close to the beginning, then I know it’s going to be like this the entire way through.
I finally had to stop reading one fantasy series because every time the main character changed clothes, we had to read about it. The sad part is that the storylines kept me interested, but I just couldn’t read one more time about the protagonist’s favorite pair of Nikes. Read more
How extreme are your characters?
Some of the most interesting and memorable characters in literature have contradictory and irreconcilable traits. Extreme characters are a mix of traits that make them so unique that they aren’t like anyone we know.
But it doesn’t mean we don’t identify with some of their characteristics. These characters stick in your reader’s mind.
Think of your character’s traits and consider which one you want to emphasize. Mental traits often work better than physical and can power emotional depth in your story. Surprise your reader by turning stereotypes inside out.
Here’s a profile of an extreme character: Read more
Even if you don’t actually use them all in your story, it’s good to know your character’s quirks because they help you describe your characters and show behaviors and details that make them feel real to readers.
Observing quirks and thinking about what they say about a person offers insight into your characters’ personalities. Here are a few quirks about food and eating that I’ve observed in my family and friends.
I’ll start with myself and say I have to eat with a regular fork, not a salad fork. As it turns out, a few years ago, I happened to mention it to my sister and she said her son felt the same way. Part of our DNA?
When it comes to macaroni and cheese, my niece can eat it only with a fork, not a spoon. Read more
“The Tender Bar,” tops my list of favorite memoirs, not only because of the voice and emotional pull of the story, but for how it inspired me to think more creatively about character description in my own writing.
J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote The Tender Bar about growing up without a father but with the guidance of his Uncle Charlie and a group of other men at their neighborhood bar who filled in as father figures.
Here’s how Moehringer uses cultural icons to describe Joey D, one of the men from the bar:
“…a giant with a tuft of gingery hair atop his spongy orange head, and features glued to the head at odd angles. He seemed to be made of spare parts from different Muppets, like a Sesame Street Frankenstein — head of Grover, face of Oscar, thorax of Big Bird.”
Moehringer goes on to write: “Though hulking and slouch-shouldered, Joey D had the manic energy of a small man. He speed walked, fluttered his hands, spoke in word spasms that left him winded. Like hay fever sneezes, whole sentences exploded from his mouth in one burst: Ocean’sgoingtoberoughtoday!” Read more
No one wants to be known for writing flat, boring, cardboard characters. Luckily, I learned from Truman Capote that it’s not the information you tell about a character but how you show it that makes all the difference.
In one of my favorite short stories, A Christmas Memory, Capote builds finely detailed characters by offering interesting and sometimes odd descriptions of them. His character description goes beyond simple physical details. The description propels the story by setting a tone and introducing contrast and tension. Read more