No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.
How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?
One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.
Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.
How can POV help you see and develop your characters?
Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied? Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)
All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.
How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?
Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.
The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts, is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.
First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:
THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.
Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………
I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……
What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?
Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.
“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..
Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”
Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”
He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”
Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.
Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……
What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?
If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.
But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.
Sharon A, Crawford