Sunday, June 02, 2013

More on writing character

A previous post mentioned using the unexpected to make characters three-dimensional.  Obviously, everything can't be unexpected about someone or you'll end up with a platypus: all sorts of nubs and bits that don't quite fit.

So how do you describe a character to show how just plain normal they are?

Hell if I know (I'm an agent, not a writer) so I kept my eye peeled this week for good examples:

Time to put my tax dollars to use and call the cops.

"911, please state your emergency."
"Hi, how are you?" I asked.**

Those three lines [in the context of the novel of course] show us (remember show don't tell) a lot about Grace Emerson.

This is how you develop character on the page.  Kurt Vonnegut famously said every sentence develops character or moves the plot forward.

Every writer should keep a journal of lines from books that show how to do stuff.  It helps you remember it; it helps imprint it in your creative brain space.  I think writing it by hand is better than writing on the computer, but your opinion may vary.  We can duke it out if I buy you a drink to toast your publication.

**the delicious and talented Kristan Higgins wrote this 
in TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, which is a delightful summer read.  
If cloning ever gets real for people, 
I'd make sure to get Kristan cloned so she can write twice as much.


Barbara Garren said...

Janet - thanks for the brief but concise example! I know I, for one, need to keep this exact point in mind as I write and revise.

Also, thanks for the TEAL clicky - I will be adding to my blog site as well!

Last - as a devoted follower here and on Twitter of you and Fizzygirl - I am officially jealous.

Janet Reid said...

Yes, I was Fizzed at the Soho BEA party on Friday night. It was a BEA highlight. Please don't tell her, she might implode.

Steve Stubbs said...

If Grace Emerson's house is burning down and she talks like that, I hope the 911 operator sends the men in the white coats. (My house actually was on fire one time and the 911 operator tried to engage me in small talk instead of sending a fire truck.)

So here is a question: do you know a good way of distinguishing tell from show? The only rule I ever saw that I liked was, if you can put it on a movie screen it is show. Otherwise it is tell.

Ellipsis Flood said...

I love these posts. I feel like people keep forgetting that the writing itself isn't the only thing that needs voice. The characters need it, too.

I think that if you can write a dialogue with almost no tags and still not confuse the reader, you're doing it right.

Anonymous said...

These really have been such great examples. Show, don't tell can be sneaky. I'll find myself zipping along laying down some narrative only to stop and realize I'm telling, not showing. I've been able to fix this a few times by turning it into dialogue if another character is part of that narrative. Otherwise, it's a rewrite.

Caitlin said...

I find myself getting caught up in "telling" mode more often than I care to. Thanks for the examples!