Friday, 27 May 2016

Revealing a character - part 1

Hi there,
so I'm sitting in my lovely apartment in Rome. I'm six floors up and I can hear the shouts and calls of a group of boys playing soccer on what looks like a basket ball court down below. It's lovely and warm, I have a cup of tea and my laptop.

A perfect scenario for my writing today.

So, you know that I have finished the first draft of the final book in the Broughton Hall series. You'll also be aware that the redraft phase that I'm now in is very intense. Like I've explained, there's a lot of cutting, re-writing, and paring back of language and wordy descriptions to make them more concise. But what else is going on?

One of the important things I do during the redraft phase is to develop and reveal a character. For me - I don't know how other writers handle this stage - but during the first draft I start out knowing only the basics about my characters and allow them to introduce themselves, gradually revealing themselves throughout the writing of the first draft.

By the end of the first draft, I know them well. I know what they think, feel and can even anticipate how they might react to certain events they encounter. My job then is to convey this to the reader.

As a novice writer, I made the mistake of dumping all that infomation on the reader in the first couple of chapters. The result was a thick and boring beginning of a story that did nothing to encourage the reader to continue reading.

I quickly discovered the error of my thinking, pulled out the offending chapters and learned to allow my characters to reveal themselves, gradually, at strategic points through the story. To do this, there are a number of tactics to enable the important stuff to be given to your readers, piece by piece, while still keeping the story interesting. Allow the readers to learn about the characters and their motivations without beating them about the head with it.

So, here goes. Here are my ideas for revealing a character, there are a few so I'll break it up over a couple of posts.

  • Physical description - you don't need to tell the reader that the character is tall, short, thin, fat, etc., explain it in another way so they see if for themselves. Tall man getting off a chair might unfold himself. An overweight person getting off the same chair might heave himself ... get it?
  • What they think - instead of telling the reader what a character thinks, let the character speak for themselves. I like to use body language to show the reader what a character is thinking. If a character is indignant or resentful, they might sit back in their chair, pull their chin in or make a face. If the character does not suffer fools, they might roll their eyes if someone says something foolish. Watch the people you know or see around you and describe what they do or how they react to influences around them. Describing a facial expression or hand or body gestures give a reader a much greater picture than simply saying, he was unhappy or she was excited.
  • What others say about them -  Consider this piece of dialogue from Torn. Patrick and Alex are discussing Alex's mother:
I watched her straight back as she marched away. "Wonder what she wants."
He moved to a sitting position. "Who knows - she loves her little intrigues, could be anything."

Or Patrick's description of what Alex's mother got up to at the court of King George III:

"Life at court is corrupt and perverted, and the perversion is contagious. The King deplores it - he won't tolerate it - but has little influence among his own people. Your father's death, accident though it surely was, was a timely event for your mother. Her ambition hs run amok ever since." 

From these discussions, and others, we understand that Alex's mother was arrogant, ambitious and opportunistic. I didn't have to tell the reader, she could figure it out for herself.  

  • What characters say about themselves - this exchange took place between Alex and her step-father Lord Thorncliffe. I didn't need to tell readers that Lord Thorncliffe is both wise and caring; what he says here shows it. 
 "Alex, it is a sad fact that young men do what young men do. Your brother, and Patrick for that matter, are no different to any others their age."

"But she could be dying."

"As do serving girls every day when their young and handsome masters begin to feel their oats - does not mean it's right, mind."

He continued. "You could write to Simon, but what would you have him do? Marry her?" He laughed humourlessly. "This is not the way of the world."

I could go on for hours about this but I don't want to bore you silly. Instead, check out this little video. Our first week in Rome was spent in a lovely little apartment which had a resident; the cheeky and adorable Romeo who would come over to visit us each day. I took this video one morning, just as Stu was coming in with our morning espresso:


Until next week, be cheeky and adorable - just like Romeo!

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