So, after the presents are opened, the food enjoyed, and the family and friends held close, sit back with a cup of something warm and spicy and review these craft points below to help you ponder where you are in your current WIP and where you want to take it in the new year. Then, be sure to come back next Friday, New Year's Day, for part B of our Best Craft Tips of 2015 from Adventures in YA Publishing!
From: The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick
Regarding character transformation:
So in the end, I agree with Flannery O’Connor. It’s the change that makes the character interesting. But, the change doesn’t have to be a tsunami of events played out unrealistically across the page. It can be just a drop. A hint. A ripple. Enough to let the reader know that transformation is possible. That your character actually wants to change. That’s enough. In fact, that’s everything. And the reader will follow your character to the very last page.
From: Using Setting for Tone in Contemporary YA by Jaye Robin Brown
In short, your setting shouldn’t be a Barbie house to set your characters inside of and move them around and make them talk and interact. Your setting should be as dynamic and alive as all the other hard won parts of your novel. Each setting, each change of scenery, you have an opportunity for carefully thought out details. Why choose something random when you can choose something to enhance and highlight the tone and mood of your story or scene?
From: Seven Key Elements of Pacing Your Novel by Martina Boone
Provide conflicting goals for characters, and never give your main character what she wants—not, at least, without piling on the complications in compensation. If she succeeds, there has to be a “but” to her success. If she fails, occasionally let her fail so spectacularly that she not only falls on her face, she also loses her dog and breaks her leg so that she can’t go after it. Go ahead. Be mean. Once your character succeeds, there’s no reason for a reader to keep reading, unless you provide that reason.
From: Weaving Foreign Words Seamlessly into English Language Text by Christine Kohler
Besides reading other children's lit books with foreign language peppered within English language text, I recommend reading literature from authors in the language of your characters. For example, to create the tone and cadence of Seto’s voice in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, I read gothic poetry from Akinari, an 18th century Japanese poet.
From: The Word on Dialogue (Read If You Like Ice Cream) by Stacey Lee
Give every character his or her own unique way of speaking. This could be through dialect, word choice, speech length, slang, etc. A common beginner’s writing mistake is when everyone comes out sounding exactly alike. The pattern of speech should reflect the character’s personalities. Are they confident or shy? What is their sense of humor – dry, cheesy? Are they optimists, or pessimists? Idealists? A good writer will be able to convey who is speaking simply by how they speak.
From: Six Tips for Improving Your Dialogue by Eileen Cook
Characters Don’t Always Say What They Feel: One of the biggest errors in dialogue is having characters say exactly what they think or feel. In movie dialogue this is called “writing on the nose.” The truth is, most of us are either too polite or scared to say what we think. Sometimes we know we can’t say what we want because it will get us in trouble.
- Write a scene where characters say exactly what they think and feel. Then rewrite it trying to show the reader what the characters think/feel, but don’t allow your character to say it directly.
- Does your character know what they think/feel? Often we confuse emotion. We come across as angry when in reality we are scared. For example, a parent may yell at a kid for doing something risky, when in reality what they are is horrified because the kid could have been hurt.
From: Author Helene Dunbar Answers Questions on Ask A Pub Pro
Answering a question about reader sympathy for an anti-hero character:
I agree with you that sometimes the most interesting character arcs are those in which the character has a great distance to go. However…just because a character starts out immensely flawed, doesn’t mean that the reader can’t sympathize with them. For instance, your character might be a total self-serving narcissist who irritates everyone he/she meets except…they have a soft spot for their little sister and take her to the park at 1pm every Saturday regardless of what else they’re asked to do. I think that showing the softer side of a hard character can go very far in rounding out the character and might give you some extra ammunition in ramping up their arc.I hope you enjoyed these insights. Be sure to check back next Friday for part 2.
That IS a very common criticism though, so make sure that your character is human enough or believable enough or fleshed out enough so that regardless how flawed they are, there is something to make the reader root for him/her.
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers