Getting Readers Closer to Your Characters by Tonya Kuper
One of the things I end up telling my college Writer’s Workshop students the most is “get us closer.” No matter if the fiction is written in third person or first, as writers, we want our readers to be fully emerged in the story. I have a couple tips to help writers in this area.
1. Eliminate the use of passive and/or telling words like was, did, smelled, felt, looked.
2. Use active verbs and make the feelings the subject of the sentences.
As an example, I’ll use tips one and two together, below. Basically, this the whole “show, don’t tell” advice you hear tossed around all the time. I tried for years to understand exactly what that meant, but it wasn’t until I was in edits with Enigma that I finally got it.
Example: She felt a damp coldness seeping through her boots and chills zinged up her spine.
The word felt is passive. It doesn’t really show us what is going on, it’s an over-generalized word. The entire sentence is telling. In order to make the sentence more active, try using the coldness or dampness as the subject.
Example: The damp cold seeped through her boots, zinging a chill up her spine and stiffening her shoulders.
We changed the sentence from telling, to showing. It’s more active. By doing this, we take away one layer of separation between the reader and the character. It allows the reader to get closer.
3. Make sure your characters not only act (do something/use action verbs), but also REACT.
- Physical, visceral, emotional (thought) reactions
Oftentimes, as writers we forget that for every action, we need to ask ourselves if our character needs to react. If they would naturally give a reaction, what kind of reaction would it be?
Physical reaction: these are exactly as it sounds, physical actions. Ex: I shielded my eyes from the morning sun; she yanked her hand away from the fire.
Visceral reaction: these are "gut" reactions, ways your body automatically reacts inside. Ex: my stomach roiled; her heart bucked against her ribcage.
Emotional reaction: these reactions can be shown through dialogue, as well as thoughts (inner monologue). Ex: "Are you serious?" I didn't mean to verbalize my shock. Her words inflated my already growing fear.
By showing our audience three different types of reactions, the characters are more well-rounded, yes, but they are also more vulnerable. Allowing our readers to see different reactions, they get more of a glimpse into the characters psyche and inner-workings.
I hope these were some helpful tips. Happy writing!
About the Book:
Worst. Road Trip. Ever.
Escaping with Reid Wentworth should have been fun, but how can I enjoy it when I just (accidentally) killed someone, my mom and brother are in danger, and the Consortium is trying to enslave humanity? (Yeah, they aren’t fooling around.) So feeling something for Reid Wentworth was not part of the plan. Trying to help unite the Resistance against the Consortium means I can’t be distracted by hot boys.
The Resistance secret hideout isn’t exactly the rebel base of my dreams. A traitor there wants me dead, but we have no idea who it is. And with both the Resistance and the Consortium trying to control me, the only one I can trust is Reid. If we’re going to have any chance of protecting my family, controlling my unstable powers, and surviving the clash between the Oculi factions, I’m going to have to catch this traitor. By using myself as bait.
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About the Author:
Tonya Kuper is the author of the young adult science fiction Schrodinger’s Consortium duology, ANOMALY and ENIGMA. She first fell in love with reading in elementary school, which eventually lead to earning a BA in Elementary Education and a MS in Reading Education, but she never thought she’d write a novel, let alone several. When Tonya isn’t writing, she teaches Young Adult Literature Writing Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, laughs as much as possible, loves music, and nerds-out over Star Wars, Marvel, Sherlock, and all things pop-culture. She lives in Omaha, NE with her husband and two rad boys.
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