Characters and the “W”s

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For me this year “On the writing road” has been a character exploring and development kind of journey. (How) our characters can be the readers eyes when it comes to exploring and—

  • Visualizing my tales location/scenery, (where)
  • Getting to know the story inhabitant’s personalities—particularly the protagonist and villain, (who)
  • Sensually feeling the environment—(how) their five senses are encountering everything around them so the reader can feel the heat, see the colored sky, (what)
  • And, most importantly, engaging a reader to like, and want to know more about our protagonist and main characters—i.e. want to read the darn book.

Part of my interest in these character rest stops is a past tendency to lean on narrative explanation to develop many aspects of my tale. Now working on my characters doing more of the work!

Today, I’m pondering further down the “What” path, as in what’s next in terms of actual plot development. Not writing the next scene or plot development because I think it’s a good idea—but “what” my protagonist thinks would be a good idea.

Here’s an example of what I’m trying to say. The current Rhodes novel I’m working on, of course, takes place in Shiné. And at several locations. And in the beginning, early one morning Leiv needs to visit four spots to get the basic setting, background events, and murder situation in the reader’s mind. I’ve spent several months changing my mind, back and forth, flitting around on who, and in what order the first scenes should go. Duh! I asked Leiv “What” did his senses tell him was the next scene, based on his mental processes.

This approach may be already quite obvious to other writers—let Leiv tell the story. But I like writing in third person, so there hasn’t been the “I” POV in my tales from the start of my writing journey. So my excuse is, that starting as an outside narrator blinded me as to my protagonist actually leading plot scene exposition.

So, continuing as the third person story teller in my latest, I moved from an outside scene, to an inside scene, to outside again. However Leiv’s mind plot evolution started outside, where he remembered an inside bookstore scene, then another inside office scene, then another inside junkyard scene…

I’m exaggerating the distinction I’m making to make the point—my recent writing-improvement path is still characters—and on all levels and perspectives. There are elements in my tales that my protagonist doesn’t know about, and for those, scenes, the reader is stuck with me, the narrator.

Indeed, my characters have captured me…but I’m not sending out an SOS yet. (smile)

Bottom line for the writing nugget in this post, I think–is no matter your POV(but especially in third person), it is for your characters to bring your reader in (because we like or are interested in them), where we can then see the world through their eyes, and then they can lead us forward through story happenings based on what they see, feel, and need to know. Seems pretty obvious now that I’ve laid it out in writing…

Happy writing trails

15 thoughts on “Characters and the “W”s”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Madeline. A reader’s journey through a story should place them right beside, or better yet, inside the characters’ perspective. Like your Liev, my Lala and her family have become well-established characters throughout a series, or more to the point, people we ‘know’ well. This gives us an added advantage, but also an added responsibility to stay true to the person – their temperament, their intuitiveness, and their moral fiber.

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    1. Very good point, Miko, in that Lala and her family have become well established in the reader’s mind and world, thus their POV and perspective on everything are even more valuable! Also like your note on their temperament, which for my current post, should drive Leiv in scene arrangement.

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    1. Oh, Heather, makes me feel wonderful that something I said in this post will help you with your current story! Write on! And thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  2. I’m cheering for you and your characters! It sounds as though you work hard to develop them well and make sure they keep the story moving in an intriguing way.

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  3. Let me give you one other character situation that you might not have considered as important, but in a mystery he/she is actually the most important guide in the story: the villain. Without the bad guy or gal there would be no reason for the protagonist to go in search of the truth (and visit all those interesting places you always have in your books.) If you give the antagonist the chance to set the stage and of course drop several clues that the hero and maybe even the reader can catch, then you begin the chase. Write on, my very talented friend.

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    1. YES! Gayle, you’re sooo right. The VILLIAN’s perspective should be all important too. Thanks for bringing up, hope your comment gets read by many, important point.

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  4. Wow, madeline. This is very good. I should change the way i write. I almost always write in first person POV, so al the decisions, thought-patterns and opinions spin off me. I don’t actually let “my” characters go. I wonder if I could…..?

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    1. Jackie, sounds like you’re about to do some “writing” HOW thinking. I really don’t know. I recently received a book from a friend(smile) by Alan Bradley, New York Times bestseller, and it’s in first person and very good. Hmmm…

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  5. “…. want to read the darn book.” That’s the bottom line!

    I feel characters come alive through dialogue. Dialogue can move the plot along, give details on setting, provide information, satisfy the “what.”. Even if writing in first person (like I do, mostly) other characters contribute through dialogue, and can relieve the protagonist, and reader, from one point of view.

    Excellent and thought-provoking post, Madeline.

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    1. As always, thanks for stopping by Maggie, and yes! You are so right about dialogue and being able to “tell” so much through dialogue. I remember somebody famous saying (I think it was John Nettles the actor) that often when portraying an adaptation written character, the actor, (even with a screenplay!) has to turn narrative into dialogue for the story to be told. We can do it first off for him(smile). Thanks so much for adding to the conversation…

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  6. Me – late again… What a fascinating journey you have been on, Mad. And I do agree with Gayle’s point about the villain’s story, too. And I prefer writing in the third person, where the writer has a lot more scope for observation and detail. I get put off by first person POV. It reminds me of a film script and is impersonal, as a way of writing. In a script, the actor, director, lighting etc add the textures and nuances. In writing – what you read is all you get: “She walks to the door, opens it and steps outside. She opens the gate and walks down the road….” Nope – that doesn’t inspire nor do I want to read on. But maybe that’s just me. Very thought provoking, dear Mad. Thanks.

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  7. Oops – that’s not first person, I just realized , after clicking ‘post.’ But I still don’t like that way of writing – and my brain is very tired – 10:54 pm and I have just finished work – after a row of late work nights. So apologies….

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