In her blog post, “Revealing Character Through Details,” Julie Eshbaugh quotes Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969,) who famously said, “God is in the details.”
A German-born, American architect, van der Rohe did not mean the more details the better. He meant it’s the small, subtle details that can give a building (and per Eshbaugh a book) the power to transcend the common.
In other words, look for telling-details that will relay worlds of information about your character to the reader. My character may have red hair, green cat eyes, freckles and a stand-out bosom but what makes her unique and memorable isn’t her outer description it’s the fact that she used to be a kleptomaniac and her eye is still drawn to bright, shiny objects, even when she’s having a serious conversation with somebody. Her eyes are greedy.
Reader Eshbaugh’s post for some fantastic examples and help in finding your character’s telling details.
You may also enjoy Carly’s related post, “Quirks make your characters feel real to readers.”
What telling details have you given your characters?
Artists can be creative, quirky, eccentric, motivated, focused, visionary, delusional, imaginative, paranoid….Ah, the highs and lows of living a creative life. The other day, I caught myself practicing a little delusion.
I’ve been taking an online class this month “Creating Compelling Characters,” taught by author and writing mentor Rhay Christou through the Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy. One section is on managing backstory in your novel. Backstory (aka B.S.) is mostly the stuff that never makes it into your novel but that you have to know in order to understand and flesh out your characters.
If you include any backstory at all, one of the best ways to do so is to drip it in only when needed in small bits—a line or two at most. I know this. I thought I was practicing this. But one of our assignments was to read through our chapters and tag any sections of backstory so we could then analyze how we inserted them into the story.
I discovered I had a three-paragraph section of backstory in chapter one! And, after I tagged this B.S., I began making excuses for having it there—it’s necessary information that the reader needs to know, it’s shorter than it looks, etc.—yes, I was deluding myself.
Fortunately, Rhay called me on my B.S. So now, once I finish my first draft, I’ll go back to this area and employ the “shard and slip” exercise described in Margie Lawson’s post, Write Fab Back Story: Not BS!
Read Margie’s post to learn about some of the best ways to include backstory and eliminate any B.S. that will bog your story down. Then, stay tuned for my next post on backstory.
In his video “Make Your Characters Come Alive,” author James Scott Bell discusses the wisdom of mixing “plot” and “character.”
Plot without character bonding = action without engagement
Character without plot = overstaying a welcome
Bells also advises that plot needs to be about death. Physical death, professional death or psychological death. This applies even to comedy. Death is what raises the stakes. It can be death of a career, a job, a reputation, or the death of a way of being.
True character, he says, is revealed only in crisis—where death is on the line.
For more on Bell’s thoughts about creating characters that come alive watch his 8-minute video here:
For more tips on plot, read my earlier post, “Plotting a story is like solving a puzzle.”
In the short video below by screenwriter and director, John Truby, he says one of the biggest mistakes writers make is how they create their characters.
Truby says most writers create characters by making them as detailed as possible. We’ve all heard this advice, right? Make your characters detailed, use all five senses, etc.
But Truby says having detailed characters does NOT make your audience care about your characters.
What makes them care is discovering two things:
1) what is the character’s fundamental weakness — their fundamental flaw?
2) what is the character’s story goal?
Truby says the best stories will show the character going after their goal, which will then make them deal with their greatest internal weakness.
To hear what else Truby has to say about creating great characters, watch his video below and check out some of his other videos:
Let’s face it, writing body language is hard. In my first drafts, I either try to stay away from writing body language, or I just face the fact that it will be all cliched and awful and I’ll have to rewrite it from the ground up.
Thanks to writing teacher Margie Lawson, I’ve been learning tips for writing better body language and using tools like back-loaded sentences, cadence, and rhetorical devices.
For tips on writing body language with examples and break downs of those examples, read Margie’s latest post here.
Also, check out my earlier post, “Character emotions: two ways to write about the body,” that shows how author Dorothy Allison writes body language.
If you’d like to share some of your experiences or tips about writing about body language, please do so in the comments below.
When starting a new novel or story, it’s a good idea to know what genre you’re writing in. That’s pretty obvious. What may not be so obvious are all the nuances within your genre. What kind of story, exactly, are you telling?
One way to discover this is to ask yourself: What are some of your favorite novels or movies and why do you like them? What makes them stand out above the others?
Below I listed a few of my favorites and why I like them. My “why” may be different than yours.
Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
Why: original pov (from dead girl), lovely prose, deeply creepy antagonist, unique setting: heaven.
Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd Read more