Today I was in discussion about my writing with a friend who looks at my penmanship frankly and offers assistance to help address my shortfalls. Yes I know, that’s a lot of assistance, a veritable government aid package worth, but he tries anyway.
Due to various personal circumstances, the conversation veered into the area of characters becoming real. How do our readers get drawn into the character’s lives and what brings them so close to these people who only ever live in the pages of a book? What’s the magic ingredient?
Make it real. And don’t take all day doing it. I recently wrote a novel (not yet published but in the drafting stages) which manifested itself into a romance novel. Originally intended as a fantasy, it grew arms and legs into a romance. Stephen King describes chipping away the stone to discover the story underneath and I guess that’s a fair analogy to what happened. But what made it a good romance was the character interaction that seemed to blossom.
It is the little moments that make life real. With a couple coming together is it the wild steamy hot sex that makes it real to our beloved readers? It might be enjoyable reading, even a turn on but it is more than this that makes the characters. Instead it’s relating his joy in her smell, his wonder of her hair, that top which sits just right, how her laugh warms him or how she knows to rub his neck just at that moment. It is all those things we know about our partners but would rarely ever let surface to others and sometimes even to them.
The ignoring of faults too. Her drinking the coffee despite his inability to make it without using two full teaspoonfuls. That blundering defense of her that was so unnecessary but loved anyway. The tease to provoke a reaction, bordering on cruel but used to stimulate. They say it’s the little things that make life real, and to a large extent I agree. So many grander things are just a lot of stuff and nonsense. But in writing even more so. If we can place these moments, these little treasures of intimate touching of soul and get away without our reader knowing they are even there, then we have a winner.
And there’s the catch. Having these observations in place but in a way so subtle takes more than just thought. It surely becomes a way of thinking about our characters, no, a way of living our characters like the actor who does because he now is. And our fingers type because the body and soul now live out these created beings of ours.
But get it right and we touch the reader. And isn’t that what we are all about?
I see dozens of blog posts explaining the virtues of various tools in aiding a writer. Different programs for your computer or apps for your tablet. Keeping files of characters, mapping out stories and completing various assessment exercises about your characters. These things can certainly have their place, depending on your method of work and time available. But there is one tool we all need whatever the genre and whatever the age range of our readers.
I call it the Mill. It costs nothing except having an unkind mind to those creations we love. Brutal and effect, it transforms stories and ideas and is never exhausted. And all you have to do is place your prized, highly honed, precious character into it. And then crank the handle. And then crank it some more.
In my forthcoming novel, I have two main characters, Kirkgordon (ex-bodyguard, bored now with civilian life) and Austerley (pathological seeker of all things dark and disturbing). My first action was to threw them into the Mill and to work out what they really hated about each other. Faith, looks, success, knowledge, women all emerged as the rough edges on the mill stones.Then I cranked the handle again and the Mill threw up a woman into the mix. One they both hungered for. Although this caused a friction between the characters, it had to be augmented and so by cranking the handle again, another woman, a family, a lack of looks and a desire to control appeared.
By this stage we didn’t even have a nemesis. So the handle turns. Each character placed in the Mill to find out which millstones best ground them down. And the whole cavalcade becomes quite dark. That’s when the sifting begins. The traits that raise these characters above the situations come by sieving off their husk and finding the good flour underneath. It takes time. Sometimes it takes paper and pen. Other times a walk and a clear mind. But the result is a novel full of life and dynamic interaction that smells real to the reader.
So by all means take whatever tools that you may need but don’t forget this one. Use the Mill, produce stories that shows you have no regard for the characters’ welfare and watch them struggle. And your reader will identify and commit to these wonderful characters you hold precious deep within.
G R Jordan author, poet, and top Dad apparently!
This image has had me on tender hooks for the last week. Everyday, several times a day, this image pops into my mind and in the most strangest of places. Feeding chickens and my mind says “Is it here?” Fending off aircraft from each other in the air traffic control tower and the weather is poor. There’s a doubt whether the aircraft will arrive. All that goes through my mind is “If the aircraft with mail doesn’t land then my book won’t land either!” Even changing the little one’s nappy and all I can think is “where’s the book?” when normally all I think is let’s get this done quick!
This was definitely a new phenomenon to me. For those who don’t know I have published an eBook of poetry and am now in the process of self-publishing it as a paperback. Trust me the eBook was easy by comparison. I went with Indie publisher Smashwords and they laid out a whole scheme of how to format the book. I followed that and once it was prepared it was a matter of a day to then actually publish it. Then it jumped onto their site and soon after onto various eBook sellers. No long wait, no grinding nerves. Downloaded it and checked the copy almost instantly.
However the printed word is not so easy. To be fair I went with Createspace and their software and instructions were good and I had the book draft ready fairly quickly. But now they are sending out the proof and it is taking a while. Again to be fair they are in the USA, I am in the UK. They took probably less than 24 hours to get the book printed and underway. But I didn’t pay for the fastest delivery as it was extremely more expensive though I did go for the intermediate postal service. If I had any hair left to tear out it would be gone, so praise Him as I am a baldie! The song is right, the waiting is the hardest part.
So now I having waited the great dread is coming upon me! What if there’s a mistake? Did I miss a comma, an apostrophe, a full stop!? How come the smallest things cause the greatest anguish? So please any would be writer’s out there who long to see their precious manuscript make that leap from computer type to embalmed delight take it from me – while that wonderful cargo is in the post plan a holiday, somewhere far, far away! Possibly Mars would do. Failing that take the second star to the right and straight on til morning. And Mr Postman, if you return to sender……………….
Four Life Emotions, the eBook is available here. Look out in the coming months for “I am Thunderstorm” my first kid’s book and also “A Lighter Shade of Dark” a collection of short allegorical stories, both appearing in eBook and paperback format, details when available at my Smashwords homepage.
Originally Published 16 June 2014 on blogspot