Let Your Story Tell the Reader About It

April 8, 2013

First off, here’s the link for the Call for Excerpts Submissions. I’m looking for novices’ excerpts (200 words)  from your WIP for my next book, Revision for Beginners.

Now then, Today I’m talking about how hard it is to make characters life-like and less-writerly in your manuscript. If I could give every novice this writing advice, I’d be in heaven.

Here’s what novices don’t always realize about characters: they should be written about like they’re real people, but without the addition of all the stuff that doesn’t matter to the story. So skip explaining, cut down the bask story, tighten the expository narration, and show us this person doing things because of a very good reason.

It’s simpler than it sounds. But, think of it this way: if you know that you, yourself, think some very deep, unpleasant thoughts, let your character do the same. If you’d never imagine hearing yourself say that dialogue, don’t make your character say it. If you don’t know why a character reacts like they do – find this out.

If you list traits about yourself, you’re not going to stop at one. So during your story give your characters more than one trait to be know for as well. Better yet, have two of their traits at odds within them. poor/intelligent, or rich/disorganized. Talkative/nosy or concerned/nervous

When you think of and begin writing characters,

You can think up a story where there are people who never get taken care of by anyone. Where there are people who get taken care of no matter what.

Stories about characters who are scared, or lonely, so they’re quiet and withdrawn. About characters who are loud and obnoxious, because they are lonely or scared.

When you write a mainstream or literary piece of fiction, about a baker, or a lawyer, or a beautician or mail carrier, a teen or a hospice patient, a 10-year-old, or an expectant mother, you’re probably thinking more about what they do, or the stage they’re at in life.

The early levels of writing take you through working out what your characters do; you’ll probably describe them with hair colour, age, and looks. You’ll tell us about their job or the school they attend. You do this because you want your characters to be someone interesting. Maybe you’ll think about the problem you’ll have them face.

The thing to do after all that set-up, so that you dig the deepest, is a bit more involved.

That’s when you allow yourself to think about the WHY behind the HOW your characters are,

Lonely, quiet? Loud, obnoxious?


That’s where the depth of a story or novel can come from. Figuring out why your characters are how they are. Once you know keep the explaining of Why to yourself. Don’t put that reasoning on the page. Instead, let the characters’ actions, reactions, motivations, and emotions show the Why to the reader. Let other charters reveal things. Let the circumstance be the what shows the reader those Whys.  You, as narrator, stay out of it. A reader wants to find out, not be told.

Hair color, height, or job title even over-arcing problems for your character don’t let the reader see why the story is going down as it does.

The Why of your characters is what does that.

Who your characters are comes not only from how you write them, or what you put them through, but also from why they are the way you write them.

You can give the same hair color, number of siblings, and grades in school to 8 teen characters and if each of them had one of these traits assigned to them: Angry, scared, selfish, guilty, naive, clueless, suspicious, stupid, you’d have 8 different Why’s behind their story you write.

IF you then choose any two traits for each of your eight characters, angry because he’s stupid, guilty because she’s selfish, suspicious because he’s scared. look how much deep er you’ve gone in building characters.

So when you’ve gotten though a first draft, with all the descriptions and problems, try and go deeper. Look to the Whys. And once you find them, let your story tell the reader about it.



10 Responses to “Let Your Story Tell the Reader About It”

  1. madiebeartri Says:

    I work hard to make my characters come alive and believable. At first it was difficult but with practice i am getting better.

  2. Karlie Says:

    I have pages and pages of character details…I love building story people, and I love learning about that. Thank you for the great post!

  3. Karlie Says:

    You’re right there – if I put all my details into my story, I wouldn’t have room for anything else. It’s more like those details give me deeper insight into their actions and reactions, allowing me to write a deeper character. Does that make sense? It did in my head…oh well.

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