News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Build Your Characters From Reality. Show, Don't Tell.

Characters build the novel. If your protagonists don’t have enough substance so you can get into their soul and experience what they feel, or you can predict how they are going to respond to a situation, you are going to lose your reader. Beginning writers hear, from their writer’s group constantly, the words, “Show, don’t tell.” Isn’t enough to say, ‘he felt lonely, alone and abandoned’?
No, it is not. Consider my male protagonist, Gideon, in Maddie’s Choice. Grandparents raised Gideon and his brother when their parents were killed. Zeke was about ten. Gid was about six. His grandfather, who had no time for the rebellious Gid, favored Zeke. After Gid’s grandmother died, when he was about ten, there was no love at all for Gid, so he joined the military right after high school, and became a sniper in Afghanistan, which led to his return to the ranch with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now, this is entirely too much backstory to dump on a reader during a scene. Bits and pieces of this are revealed throughout the book, but I use a flashback scene to reveal the source of Gideon’s loneliness. To whit:
“A wisp of memory floated through his mind, of a time right after his parents disappeared. He was six years old, feeling sad and lost because his dad had gone. He wondered if they were dead, but the word was never used. He’d been told Dad and Mom went to “a better place,” and it confused him. They were his whole world. Why would they go someplace better and leave him behind?
On that day, lonely and yearning for comfort, he’d found his grandfather working in his office. Needing to be held. He tried to climb up onto his lap, only to be pushed off.
“I don’t have time to play with you, Gideon. Go find Zeke.”
As young as he was, he understood that is grandfather was lost to him. His older brother, Zeke, was the favored one with lap privileges.”
Where did that scene come from? It came to mind when I remembered something similar happening to my young son and his grandfather.
As I said before, draw from within yourself to give life to your writing. This tale is a preface to a PTSD attack in which Gideon seeks refuge in the corner of the barn, where Maddie finds him.
This is much better than simply saying, “Lonely, and distraught, he sought refuge in the corner of the barn.”
I’ve had readers ask me if Maddie was somehow me in this book. Well, yeah, as it will be in every other book. If you don’t pour yourself into your book . . . the famous advice to ‘open a vein and bleed,’ your readers won’t sense the realness of the story. It doesn’t have to be you, but you have to listen to every conversation you will ever have and sense the story underneath, so you might use it.
There is a t-shirt out there that says, ”Careful, you might be in my next book.”
So true! 

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