The single piece of advice I repeat most often is to get into your characters’ heads — to write with a more intimate point of view. Let’s take a closer look at just what that means.
Most writers go wrong by losing track of how everything on the page needs to flow out of a single character’s head. As the scene progresses, the flow of information and emotion is tied to that one person’s experience. When you trying to squeeze in information that the character wouldn’t think about, or when you use a language and style that don’t fit the character’s personality or mood, then you’re going to confuse your readers about who your character is.
The problem in this morning’s passage is more subtle. The narrator, Raney, jumps from one emotional state, one idea, to another without a clear train of thought to relate them to one another. This makes it hard for readers to get to know the mind behind the disconnected thoughts. Granted, there are sometimes people who think this way, but usually you need to signal that kind of extreme state of mind to your readers. And even with someone who is not thinking clearly, the shifts from one mood to another are often triggered by the events they’re experiencing. In this case, it sometimes seems as if Raney’s a different person from paragraph to paragraph.
For instance, if the author wanted to keep Raney’s longing to be taken away with the shipping containers, we should have seen some hints earlier that she was unhappy with her life. And after the paragraph about the containers, we would need to see her snap back to the present, the way she does after ruminating about her attraction to the groom and Norman’s attraction to the bride. The thoughts need to flow from one to another with clear transitions.
An intimate point of view is a powerful character-building tool because it presents readers with a distinctly individual train of thought and flow of emotions. The events on the page bring the character to life because readers can sense what the character feels in response to them. When that shared emotional flow isn’t there, the events simply become a string of random thoughts and observations. And random thoughts do not a character make. [Read more…]