Tuesday, September 25, 2012

They don't like my characters...writing tip

This is a story about a bunch of characters you
will love and at least one that you will love-to-hate.

Question:  The folks in my writer's group don't like any of my characters. You said in a recent post that if the reader doesn't have any stake in your characters, there will be no tension in your story.  They say they don't DISlike them, just don't care about them one way or the other. What can I do?

Answer: The reader only knows what you show or tell them. But that can be a very small amount of information and therein lies the problem. YOU may know a lot more about them than you show/tell the reader. 

Perhaps your character is a guy who makes a bet that he can get to first base with some "untouchable" girl on a first date? Now that's an UN-gentlemanly thing to do and shows him as disrespectful to women. Basically, he's betting against her virtue here. This is the same plot whether in Jane Austen's era, or our own.

At that point the reader is unsympathetic to him and rooting for the girl, but the guy is your PROtagonist and the reader should be rooting for him. The key here, is motivation. You can show her, before the bet, being rude to him, OR you can show him as crazy-in-love with her and making the bet while in the throes of a dream/fantasy, but however you do it, he MUST have a GOOD  reason, a likeable reason, or at least an UNDERSTANDABLE reason for what he does. 

I once read a story where the main character was shown as playing mean tricks on his phys-ed teacher, behaving like a bully to his classmates, and going off to sulk by himself  after school when the others asked him to come along to the soda shop. The actual writing was good and I could see everything that happened, but the character acted like an ass.

When I asked my student why he was so rude, she said he was too poor to buy a soda, that the teacher encouraged the others when they constantly made fun of him in gym class for not having the right kind of basketball shoes. But  none of that was in her story. She knew all about it, but she hadn't let the reader in on any of that.

Now, I don't know your characters, or your situation, but you might want to check for facts about the character that have not been shown.

I once read an article in Writer's Digest by popular fiction writer Phyllis Whitney, in which she said, "a heroine can never have chipped nail polish." I looked down at my own well-bitten digits and knew I'd never make it as a heroine. 

But her point was that in the real world you'd hardly ever notice if someone's nail polish was slightly chipped, because you have the whole persona there in front of you and you are seeing everything all at the same time. But within the context of a story, where the reader knows so little and then only what the writer chooses to show, if her nail polish is chipped, the reader will assume that she's slovenly and careless. 

Everything you say about a character in your story takes on weight tenfold.

No comments:

Post a Comment