Thursday, January 19, 2012

Making Narration and Detail Matter Through Character

Characters. I've come to the conclusion that they are one of the most important things within a book. They define the plot, the emotional connection that a reader has to the book, and the tension.

Without the characters, there is no plot, even if your characters are mearly vechials of said plot. But more importantly then that, and something I'm only just realising: Your characters are your desciption.

How do you make description matter? Well, you narrate through your character, and make it matter to them. If you want to get across the fact that your female MC is a buxom beauty, you don't say: She had an hourglass silhouette with perfect lips, blond hair and green eyes. That is a list of physical characteristics.

But if you describe the female MC through one of the other characters, it makes those details matter to the reader. Because while you're still describing physical characteristics and telling us about them, you're also showing the effect that these characteristics has on your viewpoint character. In essence, telling by showing.

For example : Christy reminded her of a whore sometimes - puffed up lips, dyed platinum hair and a chest that was too large to actually be real. But every now and then, there was a flash of something in her probably fake green eyes that made Sara hunt her down every time she wanted information.

Now, you're still getting across exactly the same details. But these details are now important - they effect the standing of Christy in Sara's eyes, and they influence how she acts around her. The have importance to the character, and because character and plot are connected, to the plot.

If Christy had been the bookish type, maybe the contrast between her appearance and the knowledge in her eyes wouldn't have jumped out as Sara quite as much. Maybe she would have gone to someone different.

And thus, you would have a different plot.

Characters determine plot, and plot determines characters. But by telling us things by showing it to us through the reaction of characters, you make the telling a lot more interesting and meaningful

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Telling instead of Showing - Because none of us can read minds

Show, don't tell. Hallowed writing advice, definitely. The whole point of it is to involve your readers. To pick on an clichéd example, writing : "he slammed the phone down" is infinitely better than "he felt angry". By showing, you're inviting your reader to participate in making their own conclusions about the character's emotions
But you can go too far. I see this happening in my own work, and when I'm betaing, when a characters thoughts are involved. Some things have to be told. Prose is not a movie script.

For example, if a person is hovering on the edge of entering a building, they may be nervous, anxious, sort of hoping that the person they're going to meet isn't in there, while at the same time knowing that they need to meet this person.

Fear, anxiety - all that can be shown through the bodies reactions. But the moment you start trying to show the thoughts of that character, you can get stuck. A sentence along the lines of "he doubted he was going to get anywhere with Chris's help, even if the fear screeching at the back of his brain told him otherwise" is fine in this situation. You're telling. You're telling that he's afraid, that he doubts he can go further without this.

But you're also inviting the reader into the characters mind. Something you can't do just by showing. If you say something like "he hoped from foot to foot, hesitating at the doorway", that shows that he's scared. It doesn't show us his thoughts on his fear though. I doesn't show us how he's made mentally as a person.

The whole point of showing is to involve the reader, to make them part of the story. But you can only show emotion, not thoughts. And while actions do make a person individual, thoughts make them unique.

It's entirely possible that there could be two people standing at that doorway, both nervous and scared about going in. Both could go in. But one could be formulating a way to go about his objective if this fails, while one other is totally in the moment, and just hoping to hell that this works.

There's a significant difference between inviting the reader into a person's mind, and hitting them over the head with things they could figure out for them selves. But none of us are mind readers, so telling definitely has its place