We’ve all read fiction where the characters come across as superficial. I’m not referring to their traits (and superficiality may well be one of them). Instead, I’m referring to characters that don’t evoke a strong reaction from the reader, characters that don’t connect in some way to the reader, characters that leave the reader thinking “Who cares?”. Chances are fiction with characters that the reader can’t seem to get into means that the writer doesn’t really know their characters. The writer didn’t get inside each haracter s’ head.
Getting inside your protagonist’s or antagonist’s head is key to understanding them and bringing them to life to your readers. Here’s a short excerpt from my novel Beyond Blood to illustrate this.
He had woken up to cold and darkness. Beechnut. Where was Beechnut? He was lying on his back and tried to sit up but his arms were stuck in front of him and his feet were stuck together. Shadows seemed to come at him.
“Mom … mee,” David said. “Mom … mee. Where are you? Mom … mee, I’m scared.”
No answer. Where was he? Where were Mommy and Uncle Bast? Where was Debbie? They’d been reading Alice in Wonderland. Then he had gotten hungry and run downstairs to the kitchen with Debbie after him. It was a game they always played. When he’d heard a noise in the basement he’d run down there and seen one of Mommy’s friends playing the game, so he’d chased after … and then … he couldn’t remember. His head hurt and he felt a little sick. He tried to move his hands again, but couldn’t. They were still stuck together.
Where was he? His toes hurt. His teeth hurt and he was so cold.
“Mom … mee. Mom … mee.” Now he was yelling.
A door burst open and something thudded in.
Oh no, a monster. Coming after him.
“Mom … mee. Mom … mee. I’m scared.”
He heard a click and a bright light blinded his eyes.
“Pipe down,” a voice shouted at him from above, or was it beside him?
“Who are you? I want my mommy. I want Beechnut.”
Instead he felt something heavy and sticky cover his mouth. The bright light clicked off and footsteps receded to the doorway, and then he heard a door slam.
In darkness and alone, David began to cry, his sobs muffled by the tape over his mouth.(From Beyond Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press,2014).
It is probably obvious that David has been kidnapped and that he is a small child (he is six). Here the reader finds out how David feels about this from first discovering he is not at home and his Mommy is not around. The reader can feel for David, can feel his fear and despair.
Of course not all characters get kidnapped. Some fall in love; some are con artists, etc. The writer needs to convey all this to the reader and getting inside the character’s head is one way to do this.
There are other ways to develop characters. I will be teaching a workshop on Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction next Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in Toronto, Canada. If you are in the area and want to attend, it is free. The library prefers you to register first (call 416-396-3975) , but you can just show up at 6.30 p.m. Workshop runs to 8 p.m. Here are the details about it.
Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Learn how to show, not tell, to develop credible characters and make their dialogue sing. Uses excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point and Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford to illustrate. Writing exercises and some writing critique.
S. Walter Stewart Library Branch (auditorium)
170 Memorial Park Ave.
(Coxwell Ave. and Mortimer Ave. area)
6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
And if you are interested in reading more about developing characters but can’t make the workshop (for obvious reasons such as you live in another part of the world), you can click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top and that will take you to my publisher’s website where you can see my profile and where my books are available online and elsewhere. I didn’t do the usual link to Amazon because they have the incorrect price for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. It is not $94.36. I have contacted Amazon about this error so hopefully it will be corrected shortly.
It would be nice to get that much from a book, but who will buy it at that price? Somebody with big fingers on little keys maybe entered the amount?