Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Romancing the Reader (Repost from March 2010)

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our writing.

I'm weaker with character development and dialogue than I am with setting description and plot twists. I know what I need to work on, but sometimes knowing feels like it's only like a sixteenth of the battle. Maybe less.

Here's the eternal question: How do we get the story in our heads to match up with the story on the page?

It turns out I've had to do a lot of scene by scene work, determining exactly what's happening in each scene. I'm realizing that I'm sacrificing characterization for the sake of plot and word count in many places, and that ain't good.

Who cares what happens in my story if my characters aren't alive? Well, you know, alive in the mind of the reader and all that jazz. So I've been trying to analyze what I enjoy about the characters in the books I've been reading recently.

Alexia Tarabotti from Carriger's Soulless didn't have to do much to earn my sympathy--sure, she had to kill a vampire, keeping her wits about her, but it was the fact that she'd escaped the confines of a stuffy party in search of a dessert cart that really won me over. The more I learned about her (not only is she lacking a soul, a secret she can keep from her family, but not supernatural creatures, she's also suffering from the unfortunate malady of being half-Italian ;D) the more I wanted her to get exactly what she wanted--even if she didn't know she wanted it yet.

It's all well and good to analyze, but putting this characterization into practice is much more difficult for me. One writing book I read (which one? really they're all a blur at this point) said that nearly every line of your manuscript should be pulling double, or even triple, duty.

For example: Dialogue should enhance character development as well as advance the plot. Narrative in a first person pov should do the same.

During my next round of revisions, I'm going to be ruthless with my writing. I'll have to make sure every line is pulling it's weight, or if there's a different way to say the same thing that will add to another aspect of the story, adding realism and affecting the reader in an emotional way.

Difficult as it is to read my own work as if I don't know the story, I'm trying to see it with fresh eyes this time around. Hopefully, I'll be able to add an extra dimension of detail and emotion to the story that was lacking before!

How do y'all tackle characterization? Does it come naturally, or is it like dragging a basketball-sized lead weight through a swamp in the dark with no shoes on? Cause that's how it feels for me sometimes. ;)


Carolina Valdez Miller said...

This was one of the toughest issues I faced when I first started writing, and sometimes still face. "Why isn't that coming out like I want it to???" It's easier now, I suppose because I'm finally gaining the skills to transplant what's in my head onto the page. But it's never easy. And it's always a long process. Being ruthless with your writing is really the only way.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Rewriting is the key to good writing. I'm strong in character but have a lot of passive language and need to restructure every sentence in my rewrites. I love that we share our weaknesses - before blogging I thought I couldn't write novels because my draft didn't meet the standards of a good published novel. Silly me :)
Wagging Tales

Selim Yeniçeri said...

This was a real problem for me too. I label such weak portraiting as "paper characters" and it's not my invention of words. Well, my readers (in Turkey, so my books are not in English yet) strongly emphasize that my characters feel like real now, and I often get questions like "is this character a real person?" Well, I overcame this problem from two strong roots: First, I analyze why I use a given character, and position it in a contrast with plot, so this gives me all the questions and aspects I should work on more. Second, instead of writing it through as a godlike author who orders the characters what to do, I use my acting skills, and try to get into the skin of that character, so IT TELLS me what to do. Sometimes this approach makes it harder to control the plot, but also makes writing more exciting and in depth.

Just wanted to share my ideas. Great post though. Congratulation.s