Monthly Archives: October 2012

Which One is Your Character?

Envision This Scenario

Several workers are bustling about a meeting room, having been delegated to arrange the space for an evening meeting.

Nate, while setting up the microphone at the lectern, and accidentally knocks over the Be A Novelistglass of water prepared for the speaker.

Constance, who is on the floor below the raised podium concealing electrical cords with duct tape, receives a few splashes from the spilled water. Springing to her feet she says, “Nate, you clumsy oaf. Why can’t you ever watch what you’re doing? You can’t be trusted to do anything right.”

Josh rushes to Nate’s side and slings an arm around his shoulders. “Hey, man, no biggie. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Coulda happened to anybody.” Looking down at Constance he adds, “Even her.

Tina’s quiet voice cooed from behind Josh. “Aww. Poor Nate. It’s all right Nate. Don’t feel bad. No one blames you. It’s just a nasty little accident.”

Be A NovelistFrom the other side of the room, Darla starts pointing at people and shouting orders machine-gun fashion. “You get a mop from the janitor’s closet; you go to the restroom and grab a handful of paper towels; you go to the kitchen and get another glass of water and a pitcher with extra water as well.”

Before Darla even spoke, Malcolm approached the podium dragging a mop and mumbling, “It’s always up to me. Nobody else has sense enough to know what to do. Don’t know what they’d do around here if it weren’t for me. They’re darn lucky I even decided to come and help.”

Question:

Which one represents your character?  How would your character react in this situation?  If you’re not sure, you may be in trouble.

Think about the people in this group. We have the carefree person, the mercy person, and the caustic one who is quick to cast blame. Then there’s the take-charge administrator, ever ready to administrate and regain order. Bringing up the rear is the Eeyore-type weighted down with the martyr’s cloak.

Understand Human Behavior

This isn’t to say these are the only personality types in the world, but rather to state that as a novelist it’s important to study human behavior. Understanding and evaluating human behavior is crucial to creating realistic, believable characters.

As your character is developed, that character’s personality and inclinations must be strongly etched in your mind. As each one acts out his (or her) role, he springs to life. Josh slings his arm over Nate’s shoulder; Tina coos; Darla points and yells. Your character’s actions – and words – reflect how that person moves morally and psychologically through your story.  Once that is clearly defined, never force the character to perform an action that goes against his personal morality unless a definitive inner change has taken place.

The actions you assign to your character must be carefully selected to portray not only his outer life, but his inner life as well.

In other words, I could not imagine Constance cooing merciful words to Nate. Could you?

At least, not in the magical, novel-world of suspending disbelief.

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Be A NovelistRe-release of the fourth book in my Tulsa Series (Return to Tulsa) originally published by Barbour Publishing in 1995, now available on Kindle and Nook.  Return to Tulsa is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Check it out HERE.

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Are you one of those budding novelists whoBe A Novelist make a great start but who can’t seem to finish?  Then this is for you!  Be A Novelist, Six-Month, Finish-My-Novel Challenge!  Six full months of guidance and instruction. Guaranteed to light a fire under your novel-writing attempts and to launch you into a pattern of consistent writing! Details right here!

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Photo credit: © Milogu | Dreamstime.com

A Sense of Place

Different Approaches to Setting

Every novelist has at least a cursory knowledge or understanding regarding the setting of a story. It’s the geographical place where the story takes place. It’s the time era, and sometimes even the season, when the story takes place. But is that all there is to creating a setting? Could there be more?

Be A NovelistIn the different novels that you’ve read, you will agree, some are filled with descriptive setting details, while others use setting as symbolism. Still others give the setting a scanty touch here and there. Then we see novels in which the setting lunges out of the story as a wild antagonist. (Think Jack London’s works.)

Is one way the correct way, and others wrong? Not at all. In whatever way setting is handled in your novel, the most vital aspect is that it exudes a sense of place. When the sense of place is clearly portrayed, the reader is joyfully pulled right into the scene (or scenes). Why joyfully? Because this is what novel readers look for and revel in.

Achieve a Sense of Place

How then is sense of place achieved?

One way is to be aware of your setting and determine early on how much power, how much presence, how much effect you want it to have in the novel. Only you can decide that. As with most other novel-writing techniques, don’t assume that your setting will just happen as you write. Your awareness is your control. And you always want to be in control of how the plot is progressing.

Yet another way to achieve sense of place is to practice sense of place. What do I mean by that?

Be A Novelist

The setting for your novel may be a place you have never visited. That’s okay – it happens more often than not. I’ve only been to New York City once in my life, but my two Tulsa Series Novels, Tulsa Turning and Return to Tulsa were both set in that great city – and the year was 1921! (I’m sure you’ve done the same thing in your novel writing.)

But there are innumerable places where you have visited. Or have lived. Begin with those for your practice. Begin with what is intensely familiar to you — or what was intensely familiar to you in the past — then practice creating sense of place.

Practice a Sense of Place

As an example, I was barely four when my mother divorced my father and she and my Be A Novelist older sister and I returned to my grandparents’ farm in Kansas. I can walk through that farmhouse in my mind and I know the rooms. I remember the warmth of the kerosene heater in the living room and how it smelled. I remember when my uncle and grandfather came in from the fields and the horrific smell (at least to me) of their boots as they removed them at the back door. I can see the scraper beside the door, where they scraped great clods of mud off their boots.

I can walk out to the barn and climb up in the hay mow; I smell the hay and the alfalfa aroma; I hear the wild barn cats skittering away and hear them mew. I can walk over to the concrete water tank and see the water with green scum on top. Mother’s horse Dixie will come over and begin to drink. I can feel the gritty gravel of the driveway under my bare feet. I can see the old gray Ford tractor and can see Grandma driving it wearing her coveralls and her straw farm hat.

By doing this, I not only have a setting, but a sense of place.

Fun; Challenging; Rewarding

I don’t need this setting today. The fact is, I may never need this setting, but I do need the practice of creating a sense of place. All novelists do. It doesn’t take much time. It’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding. Try it yourself and see if it doesn’t give your novel-setting-muscles a needed workout.

Create your novel setting with clear intention and purpose; create a sense of place to draw the reader into the story. This way you will ensure that your setting will perform exactly as needs to.

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Be A Novelist Re-release of the fourth book in my Tulsa Series (Return to Tulsa) originally published by Barbour Publishing in 1995, now available on Kindle and Nook.  Return to Tulsa is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Check it out HERE.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Are you one of those budding novelists who make a great start but who can’t seem to finish?  Then this is for you!  Be A Novelist, Be A Novelist Six-Month, Finish-My-Novel Challenge!  Six full months of guidance and instruction. Guaranteed to light a fire under your novel-writing attempts and to launch you into a pattern of consistent writing! Details right here!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Photo credit: © Richard Gunion | Dreamstime.com

Be A Novelist