Show Character by Being Specific
There are arguably three basic ingredients to a work of fiction – Characters, Plot, and Setting.
You’ll find more information than you’ll ever need on all three. Since this blog addresses characters, at the time of this writing, I googled ‘Characterization,’ and returned 77,600,000 results.
Whether you believe characters, plot, or even setting is most important, I believe you cannot have one without the other two to write an interesting story.
You can profile the most interesting characters, but if nothing happens to them, you have no story. You also want something to happen in an interesting location. For example, the apparition of a Civil War soldier in a public mall would not create the same dramatic effect as if he appeared in a graveyard.
I went through a phase where I believed characters were the most critical component. (In my early days of writing, I was naïve and easily brainwashed). I developed a character profile consisting of over 250 rows in an Excel spreadsheet. Believing I had to know my main characters backwards and forwards before I could even consider writing a draft, I’d spend weeks determining how a character walked, sat, drank, ate, where he or she was from, in short, all the character’s sociological, psychological, geographical, and physical traits.
I eventually settled on a more basic and much shorter list, knowing if my story had no scene where my character dined, there was no reason to show how or even what, they liked to eat.
This brings me to the point of the blog.
One method I find effective is to be specific as to his or her actions and movements.
Specificity adds to the story without appearing as “fluff,” or “padding” for the sake of increasing word count, and is an effective way to fight writer’s block.
Consider this seven-word sentence. Tom Jones left home to go to college.
That sentence tells us little more about Tom other than he’s (we assume) at least 18 years old and (probably) graduated from high school.
Forgetting for the moment a physical description, you can tell the reader a lot about Tom just by filling in the blanks, and asking questions, starting with Who, What, When, Where, Why, How.
- Did Tom go with anyone? (Who)
- What did he take with him?
- When did he leave? (month, day, year, time, etc)
- Where did he leave from and where did he go?
- Why did he leave?
- How did he get to his destination?
Your seven-word sentence might become:
On the morning of August 21, 2015, Tom Jones stuffed three suitcases of clothes and personal items into the trunk of his 2002 Ford Civic, said goodbye to his parent’s home in Phoenix, Arizona, and began his three-day scheduled trip to Los Angeles, to study mechanical engineering at UCLA.
From the paragraph above, it sounds like Tom is planning to stay in Los Angeles for an extended period. We know he lived in Phoenix, Arizona, perhaps with his parents, and since the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles is between five and six hours, depending on traffic, we know Tom is not planning to drive straight through. We also know what college he plans to attend, and has an interest in mechanical engineering.
The rewrite adds 42 words, but also provides potential for brainstorming, and can help avoid writers block.
- How does Tom plan to pay for tuition and books?
- Did he leave by choice or did his parents coerce him, or kick him out?
- Is Tom traveling alone? If not, with whom? Male or female?
- What will Tom do for money during the trip, and while in California?
- Since Tom is planning three days for the trip, what other plans does he have? Is he meeting someone? If so, who? Is he going sightseeing? If so, where? Do his plans work out as desired?
- What does he plan to do for a living?
I’m sure you can come up with many more questions, but depending on the answers to the above six, Tom’s character, the plot, and the setting can be worked in a number of ways, including change the genre of the story.
Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid (A Solstice Western)
Clarence Flannery was luckier than most men his age to discover his life’s ambition, particularly in the unpredictable years just following the Civil War. Born with an unmatched skill to play pool, he left his home in Kansas when he turned twenty-six and traveled throughout the Southwestern United States to make his mark as a legendary pool hustler, with every intention of amassing a fortune in the process.
Clarence needed help for both support and protection, and recruited James Skinner as his partner, along with nine other highly-skilled pool players to assist him in his quest.
Wanting to be included in the same sentence as Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great, Clarence changed his name to Hustle Henry, Skinner became the Cue-Ball Kid, and the eleven men would go down in history as The Hole-in-the-Table-Bunch, known far and wide for hustling wannabe pool sharks out of their life savings.
All goes to plan and life has a rosy and profitable outlook, but Henry and his men want more than what pool halls and saloons offer, so they decide to challenge the more affluent clientele on a riverboat.
Initially, the venture proves profitable, but the millionaire tycoon and owner of the fleet of riverboats, takes exception, and intends to bring down the Bunch and thrust Henry and The Kid into a life of destitution.
Taking along the Kid’s girlfriend, Penelope Henderson, the Kid and Henry flee to South America – where there will be a final showdown.
Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is a fiction work of Western humor with an interesting and amusing cast of characters.
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The Monogram Killer (A Solstice Mystery)
When Julia Ballard meets Kelly Nichols, she believed he was the man of her dreams. Julia’s best friend has doubts, and her investigation into Nichols’s life encourages her suspicions. Despite Jessica’s warnings, Julia is convinced he is sincere and cares for her. Nichols is hiding secrets from a legacy he cannot escape, and Julia is the key to a sinister plan. When two homicide detectives combine forces to search for a serial killer, it becomes a race to see who accomplishes their goal first.
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A Head in the Game (A Solstice Mystery - coming soon)
Chicago Homicide Inspector Aaron Randall faces his toughest case while dealing with doubts about his career and the potential of a romantic relationship.
Jared Prescott, a Heisman Trophy winner and Vice President of a large and respected pharmaceutical company, is found murdered at a seedy motel. The investigation uncovers multiple suspects with multiple motives. When the body of his close friend and informant is found stabbed to death in a deserted alley, followed by the murders of two women, Randall suspects a conspiracy.Randall is hamstrung during the investigation by pressure from the commissioner down the chain of command because the president of the pharmaceutical company, anxious for resolution to Jared Prescott’s murder, is a close friend with a Senator whose sights are set on the Oval Office.