What will your character do when faced with questionable scenarios? Will they call their mother just to say hi or only when forced to once a day on Mother’s Day? Will they tell the clerk at the store that they were given too much change or just walk away a dollar richer?
The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about who characters are and what they value. What they believe in – g-d, country, greed, etc. – for better or worse will inform the decisions they make and how they should behave throughout the story.
Jane only speaks to her mother once a year on Mother’s Day. What will Jane do when her mother shows up on her doorstep one random morning and declares she’s moving in?
Jane isn’t just going to roll out the red carpet, hand her mother a cup of coffee and the keys to the house.
But what if she did? What if Jane acted completely out of character? Can there ever be a case for that? Yes, but it can’t be without a lot of discussion and introspection.
When your character behaves in a way that is opposed to the moral code that you’ve established for them, you need to give them a solid reason. Or, alternatively, you can use that as a springboard to a larger issue.
Joe watched James as he stormed off, slamming doors in his wake. Joe didn’t know what to make of his brother’s behavior. Where was the James that barely spoke above a whisper? The brother who stopped to give panhandlers crisp dollar bills or went and shoveled the neighbor’s walkway after a snowstorm just because?
Obviously there’s something going on with James and as the story unfolds, you, as the writer, need to explore, explain and build James’ character so that his actions make sense.
Your Assignment: Think about the essence of your character’s moral code. How do they behave with their family? With random strangers? How can you show through your character’s actions and interactions what they value? Are there any circumstances under which they will abandon their personal moral code? Can you use this to deep your story?
My books were showcased at the Torah Umesorah convention by my publisher! Happy to share the news and share the booth with fellow Menucha authors, including Rebecca Klempner.
For some reason when I write I tend to ignore writing about a character’s appearance. Maybe it’s because I’ve read one too many books where the character’s “cover” picture (aka the drawing on book cover) that don’t match the way the character is described in the story.
Luckily this hasn’t happened to me in my books. I’ve been very luck in that the cover illustrator for my Achdus Club series (the very talented Dena Ackerman, thank you Dena!) has created beautiful and unique heroines for each of my novels.
Perhaps, then, and this is more likely, I like to create my own image of just who the characters are. I want to imagine what the hero looks like as he explores the abandoned cabin or the heroine as she rows across the lake.
As writers, however, it is up to us to guide the readers. Here then are some things to think about:
Don’t make this a laundry list of description – Joe at 6 feet, 5 inches tall with brown hair and brown eyes, he was a bit of giant – rather give some thought and “color” to the description. Have the character’s appearance unfold within the story. Perhaps this description comes from another’s character’s observation or even the character’s own observations.
* For the first time since he was a young boy, Dan wished he had a box to stand on. Instead, he had to tilt his head all the way back to get a good look at Joe who towered over him.
* Joe raised and lowered the bedroom mirror. He’d long since gotten used to the idea that no mirror would give him a full view of how he looked. If he put the mirror super high on the wall, he couldn’t see his feet and if he put it low he couldn’t see his face.
Each of these scenarios allow us to envision just how tall Joe is, but does so without being specific numbers. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, writing the descriptions this way also provide a key insight into the thoughts and feeling of your characters.
(For more on this topic see D Is for Descriptors)
Your Assignment: Go over your story and see how you describe your characters. Is there a way to make the descriptions more colorful? Will rephrasing a scene or two with descriptions allow your reader to get to know more about how the character is feeling or thinking?
Things have been quite busy here recently, so the A, B, C Guide to Characterization will be back soon. In the meantime, here’s some news that will be of use to writers and editors. (And you’re seeing this mostly because the computer just ate two blog posts, including a much wittier version of what you will read below.)
Both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook will issue new editions later this year. These are THE manuals for writing, word usage, grammar rulings and more in the writing/publishing world. They dictate everything from how and when to italicize to when to add a hyphen in a word that starts with the letter “e” as in email, but e-commerce.
For writers, editors and those who make their living around the English language these changes can sometimes make like easier. Take, for instance, when the word style gurus (whoever they may be) decided that the singular “they” would be OK to use. This made copy much cleaner, if a little less precise.
If either Jack or Jane wants to go they can.
Nice, neat and simple, right? But consider how it would have been written before the use of the singular they:
If either Jack or Jane wants to go he or she can.
This is more clunky and takes up more space on a page, though it is a bit more precise.
The Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition is expected out this fall and will include many changes that will trickle down to the books you write and read, and the copy you write.
The AP Stylebook (officially The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law) is the the guide for reporters and the media. It will release the 2017 edition in mid-June and is expected to contain more than 200 new entries.
It’s always fun to see the things that change from one style guide to the next, which new words are included and what spelling has been changed. I remember how excited I’d get when I was working at a newspaper full time and the new style guides would arrive. I would take a few moments to peruse the new edition (a more thorough read came later) and share my excitement about the changes with my colleagues. (Truth be told, only one editor shared my enthusiasm and, hopefully, she knows who she is.)
I may not call out across the office to share the latest style changes anymore, but I’m still excited to see how language continues to evolve and how the word style gurus try to make our writing clearer.
So I’m wondering, if you could change any one thing in the word/grammar rule universe what would it be?
Writer, Editor and Author of the Achdus Club novels for girls.