This Business of Writing

Archive for the ‘characters’ Category

How to Write Character Emotions

In characters, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 27, 2010 at 6:42 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

The secret to a well received novel and a strong opportunity to succeed as a writer lies within your ability to engage your readers on an emotional level. One way to do this is to bring out the emotions your characters feel. Today I’ll offer some tips on how to write effective character emotions.

It may be of use to realize the words we use to show emotion rarely hold enough power to display that emotion. Take the word, “love,” for example. Can a single word possibly portray the myriad of sensations that flutter across a person when they’re in love? Can four simple letters depict the powerful tug on one’s heart or the overpowering sensation of selflessness when someone is in love? Hardly. This fact encourages us as writers to find a better method to display a character’s emotions.

The first secret to writing character emotions is found in your characters themselves. If you don’t have characters your reader want to know, all the emotion in the world will not engage your reader one bit. First and foremost, ensure you have likeable characters. (Read more about CHARACTERS in this article.)

Next, it’s helpful to know our old friend and writing rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true when writing about emotions, too. Consider the following examples. In the first I “tell” and in the second I “show.” Despite the simplicity of the examples, it’s obvious the second will have a stronger tendency to engage your reader.

He was scared. (Tell)

He jumped back and yelped. (Show)

An easy way to display emotion in your writing is with dialogue, both external and internal. Consider how a character might speak if he’s in love with or hates another character. Might the dialogue in these two situations differ? You bet it would. (For more on DIALOGUE, read this article.)

Here’s one effective technique to use when writing about a character’s emotions. Visualize how the character looks when he experiences a situation that calls for some sort of emotional response. Then describe his physical reactions. (He jumped back and yelped.) If you do nothing other than this, you’ll do okay.

However, to hone this skill to a more professional level, make an attempt to include their involuntary reactions and their state of mind. Not only does he jump back and yelp, but his heart beats like the proverbial drum and he feels a tingle race up his spine. He also might be so consumed by the event, he can think of nothing else. The more actions and reactions you include, to a point of course, the more your reader will become involved with your character.

When you write a scene where your character is stirred on an emotional level, make an attempt to focus on the seven universal emotions. They are hatred, disgust, fear, happiness, anger, grief and surprise. These will tend to relate to a wider audience.

You may wish to keep in mind your character’s emotional responses must be believable. Constant over-reaction or under-reaction will simply test your reader’s ability to suspend belief and most likely test their faith in your character, too.

Do you still remember your first kiss? That’s because emotionally charged events can prove powerful in life and are something people remember. This holds true with your readers, too. They are more likely to remember the emotionally charged events in your characters lives and it is these situations that sway your reader to talk up your novel. Which in turn, leads to what I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”

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Writing Secondary Characters in Novels

In characters, General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze


Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

When writing your novel, have you ever cut back or cut out a character you liked? How about one you didn’t like? Have you ever promoted a secondary character into a larger role within your novel? These events happen all the time in novel writing and, in fact, should happen. Secondary characters are as common as leaves on a tree but have the power to kill both your writing and your novel. Despite this, they are as necessary to a good novel as your major characters.

How do they kill a novel? They can take over roles that belong to other characters. It is most onerous if they take over that of a major character like the hero. In this case, the protagonist diminishes in stature which, in turn, makes readers less empathetic toward the him. And we all know an unlikable hero is the kiss of death to a novel. Further, if you incorporate too many secondary characters, they can confuse and overpower the reader and produce the same result as the unsympathetic hero.

To keep the number and roles of your secondary characters in check, you can assign all of your characters to one of three levels of importance.

Primary Characters: Hero, Villain, Sidekick

Secondary Characters: Any necessary support character to move the story toward its conclusion

Fringe Characters: There for setting or imagery, walk-ons, if you will.

How do you decide which characters to include? Remember, your story is about your hero, not the secondary characters, so only include those who might affect the core beliefs, attitudes or goals of your major characters. Not counting your fringe characters, a rule of thumb for a four hundred page novel suggests you might have three main characters and four to six secondary characters.

So, once you’ve decided upon your secondary characters, how might you bring those guys to life so they enhance your novel?

You might give them a “story” of their own. By this I mean have them in some sort of minor crisis when they enter your novel. For example, they might be “in a mood” when your hero meets them. Of course your reader will never learn what the secondary character’s story is or why he’s in the mood he’s in. Your reader might simply find them more interesting and memorable if you have the secondary character come into the novel with something going on in his life. Though he’s not a minor character, think the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland.” From the first moment you see him, he’s in a hurry and is, therefore, more interesting.

You can also use props to make them more memorable. Just introduce their prop before they come into the novel. Does your secondary character use a cane? Have the hero comment on it’s interesting carvings before we meet the guy who uses it. The use of props is a proven technique to introduce and improve your secondary characters.

Another option is to give them a frailty, but make it something normal. If we revert to our guy with the cane, maybe he suffers from arthritis. This gives your reader a hook on which to hang their impressions of this character.

One last tip on how to make a secondary character interesting to your readers. Make him an eccentric. This always latches on to readers’ imaginations. Just be sure you have only one eccentric per novel, okay?

The secret to secondary characters is, of course, to insure they do not upstage your major characters. Just keep in mind they are there to enhance and not overshadow your lead characters. Keep them in their correct categories and you’ll do all right.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”