Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Characters Who THINK (too much)

I recently read an article online that gave advice not to have your character go off by him/herself, just THINKING. This came at a serendipitous time, because in my current WIP, I was struggling with an annoying pattern. I would have an event, and I'd follow it by having my main character retreating to ponder everything she'd learned, trying to make sense of everything. By herself. With no other actions going on besides pacing, wringing hands, and slamming things around. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The trouble with that set-up is that it's static and stops the forward action of the plot. It's dwelling in your character's head for an entire page…or even a few pages. It might be a place where readers will skim and be bored. Often it's a place to Tell, information-dump or background-dump, wallow in gratuitous backflash memories, or exude melodramatic emotions.

photo: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

1. It's easier to get away with characters thinking in length if the Voice is ultra-strong.
2. If your characters must stop to think, try not to repeat information or go on too long. Tighten your revelations and ponderings.
3. Try to break up the thinking by having some of the pondering/reactions happen WHILE the initial situation is going on. But be careful not to slow the pace, especially in tense action scenes.
4. You can also break up the thinking by turning part or all of the thoughts into a dialogue scene with another character. Bounce your main character's ideas off someone else. I did this recently with my current WIP, and it worked really well! It furthered some inter-character relationships at the same time.
5. If your main character has no one else to confide in, have the character perform meaningful action that furthers the plot simultaneously.
6. A note: often it's GOOD to have a more restful or thoughtful scene in between hectic action scenes. These let the reader take a much-needed breath, and actually heightens the tension and excitement of the more active moments. Just be sure not to confuse restful with boring or static. There still needs to be conflict and some plot-furthering going on.

Have you noticed your own characters sitting around thinking too much?
What else can we do to be sure our characters don't spend too much time thinking?
When you read a book, what do you think about characters who think (a lot)?

If you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I've received the Super Sweet Blogging Award from both Victoria Lindstrom and Elizabeth Varaden! Thank you, ladies. Visit Victoria's blog HERE and Elizabeth's HERE.

As mentioned in another post for the award questions, I like chocolate chip cookies, banana bars with cream cheese frosting, chocolate mousse pie, and chocolate éclairs. You drooling yet?

When your story comes to a point where you need to describe something, do you have trouble? How do you describe that BFF or parent or haunted house? How do you evoke a clear image of a setting or place for your reader?

Tips for Writing Descriptions
1. Don't write stop-action information dumps where everyone freezes mid-sneeze while you wax poetic on what someone looks like the first time he/she is introduced. 
2. Similarly, don't put on the brakes while describing setting…don't ponder the intricate patterns of frost on the windowpane for six paragraphs. We get it. Really. These are the parts most readers SKIP or SKIM. Condense, slash, tighten.
3. Keep description to 3 sentences or less in one place is my own rule of thumb.
4. Spread out description if you need to add more besides that handful. Work them into the narrative or between lines of dialogue, as action beats.
5. Be original, and describe people in other ways than hair and eye color. Ideas: dreadlocks, acne, big ears, a hooked nose—or better yet, a shuffling gait, a frail or cowering stance, a comparison to concrete items such a German Shepherd or a plump red beet. These will stick in a reader's mind more than whether someone's hair is brown or black. Don't be clich√©. 
6. Describe personality of a character through the eyes of your main character; show how the person is affecting your MC. This is preferred over a stark (boring) grocery list of physical attributes.  
7. Don't TELL your readers what a character is like. Let them see the character's actions and words in order to come to their own conclusions. SHOW stinginess, kindness, etc.
8. Use a strong, intriguing voice if you must describe a character in length. Doing so can cover a multitude of sins, and help break the "rules" more palatably.  
9. Organize setting details to evoke a mood. Think about whether your scene is somber, lively, comical, frightening, or calm. Write accordingly. Choose words to reflect that mood, e.g., don't use comical words like snot and buffoon in a serious paragraph.
10. Be aware of the number of syllables as well as sentence length. Generally, numerous syllables or long sentences slow a passage, short syllables or sentences speed it up. 
11. Be aware of consonants. Use soft consonants like P and M and SH for a serene or flowing mood, harder consonants like G and K and D for more punch and kick. 
12. Study the writing of other writers. How do they describe people or things? Are you bored or fascinated? Why? At what point does your interest lag? Analyze, analyze. 
13. Try to avoid passive voice, and verbs like WAS, IS, and WERE (and those other "to be" verbs). Involve an action rather than passively having been acted upon: "the doilies stretched across the back of the couch" rather than "the doilies had been placed across the back of the couch."
14. Realize certain genres may require more description. Fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction (etc.) often need more details to ground readers and immerse them into a unique world. But don't use this as an excuse to description-dump. Show the character interacting WITH the world, using items and encountering people as part of the plot or action.

Yawner: He was muscular man who looked like he constantly worked out at the gym. 
Better: He was a hefty steak of a man, tight of muscle and minimal of fat.

Yawner: Her golden tresses cascaded down her back like a river, curly and luxurious.
Better: She reminded him of a golden, exquisite Rapunzel, and he imagined sinking into the luxurious depths of her tresses.

Yawner: The house stood old and decrepit, falling apart, with holes in the steps and roof. 
Better: I decided then and there that I'd better not sneeze, as the house possessed so many holes and leaning timbers that I might topple it in one inadvertent, mighty kerchoo!

Do you enjoy writing passages of description?
Which do you prefer or find easier—describing a person or a setting?
Do you have any other tips for describing people, places, or things in your writing?