Saturday, May 15, 2010

Building Layers

Building Characters in Layers

The same way actors build characters in layers, writers can ramp
up the heat and make their characters sparkle like gold
in the depth of the earth. Depth, hmm.
Just what we want for our characters.

Try this little exercise:
He was cold.
(Too often a novice writer’s way of “telling” us)

Now, show us how cold he was:

He shivered, wishing the clothes he wore covered his body better.
Thinking back, he remembered the hot chocolate
his mom had made. Mmm. That would taste good
right about now.

Now, show us how cold he was and
let us discover something about him:
He shivered, wishing the clothes he wore covered his body better.
He sure could go for some of his mom’s hot chocolate right
about now, but he’d never taste it again.
Might never see her again.
He sneezed, the spray turning into miniscule ice crystals
before they hit his lap. “Hey, you got any blankets?”
Rubbing his hands to increase the circulation, he waited for them
to pass by the last time. Footsteps. A small crease of light.
No blanket. Just the dark. He wrapped his arms as tightly
across his chest as he could and
wished he’d stayed closer to Sarge.

Can you feel the cold?
What did this scene tell you about him? Do you know
where this character is? Who this character is?
The first line “told” us this man is cold. Period.
Not a lot to go on.
The second gave us a bit more info. He’s so cold, he wishes
he could have some of his mom’s hot cocoa to warm him up.
The third, a much deeper layer, tells us he’s cold,
wishes he had hot cocoa
to warm up, but that somehow, he can’t change his circumstances
because of something he did or didn’t do. It gives us a
much deeper look into who he is.
Does your writing just “tell” the reader
your character’s cold, or do you
hint to them what’s behind the cold?
Who do you think our character is?
Try some layers to add depth to your gold, the kind
that sparkles in the walls of the mine (mind).

8 comments:

  1. Great post! It's much more real to the reader to feel how cold he is rather than just being told that "he is cold". I'll keep this layer technique in mind when writing :) Thanks!

    Tessa
    www.christiswrite.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love your third example! So good. I try to make my stuff count, but I don't always. I know I do my share of telling. LOL Hopefully I show the good stuff though.
    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Will you rewrite mine?LOL YOu are good!! thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Glad you like it. I'll be teaching on this at Faithwriters this summer. Using theatre techniques to make the characters stronger. Glad you enjoyed!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post, Linda, but you always do a superb job. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, Caroline, you're very kind!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Now you have me wondering. Is he a little boy who has been kidnapped? A prisoner of war who was captured after wandering away from his regiment? I know it's just an exercise, but you can't leave me hanging . . .

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yeah, Kathryn. I figured you'd get it! He's in Afghanistan and has been captured. Didn't stick close to Sarge like he was told to. Well done! I wish I had a war novel to award you, but keep the gold star for today! (my daughters's favorite reward when she was little) It's amazing how developing a character just a tad deeper tells us so much in such a small space.

    ReplyDelete