Write Your Experience

Write Your Experience

Dorcas Graham_Blog_N Simone Quote

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The building in which I work is designed in such a way that you get a perfect skyline view of the city from many of the big offices–big, breath-taking views of the sculpted skyline. I remember years ago that was the thing to aspire for—the coveted office with a view. And then there was the corner office—more spacious, panoramic, posh and oh, so desirable. Those that possessed such a space were privileged, envied, their status quantifiable. And now many buildings are designed much like mine, in such a way that corner offices are plentiful, multiple, almost common.

It is interesting the events, the things that we wear as badges of success. We solidify it moments by the things that accompany those moments—luxury cars, company lines of credit and spacious offices. And then we wait for it–to feel accomplished. Only we can never evolve by our external possessions but by that which is already in us. We are that best-selling author, CEO, director, CFO long before the world sees it and long before we feel anything. As our gift is being nurtured, our success is already in the making until the world officially recognizes who we really are.

ernest hemingway

Character building in our fiction writing works in the same manner. By the very nature of the term character building we are working toward the realization of the truth for two parties: Our reader and our characters. We are working out those external and internal blocks which disguise the true nature of who our characters are. Secondly, we are unveiling our characters to our reader—slowly, deliberately and in detail. Sometimes the reader knows at the beginning (before the character knows) these people detailed on the pages of our book. But they love the journey. Who doesn’t love a road trip? They love to read through the bumps and bruises along the way. They want to laugh and cry and celebrate right along with our characters. And if done superbly they will grow and learn and perceive along with them. It is the ultimate experience when a book changes its reader.

As you are developing your characters I encourage you to include those aspects which are necessary for personal growth:

Get rid of influences that don’t add to life

  1. Gather the courage to try something new
  2. Be true to yourself – this one is in crucial, because we must look at life in respect to our heart’s most intimate longings, as our hearts seek after God.
  3. Move forward in faith and confidence in the One who loves us most.

Sometimes our characters’ journey will mirror ours in many ways and that is OK. It makes it easier to write and adds to the story’s authenticity.

In today’s world we realize that occupants of corner offices are booted out and must find new places to sit and work. And it just may be where they were meant to be all along.

How to pace your story

No one has ever accused me of being too patient or of moving too slow on a decision. By my very nature I like short, sweet explanations and components that actually move.

My mother was the opposite. She lingered at the grocery store, took time to speak to everyone at church. She ate slowly, methodically and never allowed anyone to put her into a hurried state. As a teen I would ask permission to attend a basketball game or show and she always had to think about it. Think about it? Really? To say that we bumped heads is to put it mildly. Perhaps my biggest frustration was that she did not make my hurriedness her problem. Her pace was proper for her lifestyle and suited every decision she made. It would take me years to appreciate this virtue. And indeed it is a virtue that can be priceless when writing fiction.

When I first began to write fiction I felt compelled to get it all out there at once. I was concerned that my reader would get bored with the story if I took too long to get there. I was fearful that if they didn’t have enough story within the first few chapters they would yawn, close my book, promise to get back to it later, but would never do so.

 

Now, there was some validity to my concern. But my problem (which I now realize) was that I did not know the difference between dragging a story and creating suspense. Suspense by the very meaning of the word is to leave the reader in a state of uncertainty and our curious nature compels us to seek answers. And when it comes to fiction, the only way to get those answers is to continue reading. My problem was how to get them to continue on with the book and not give away all to goods only to be bored later. Here is what I found:

00-9-Quotes-2-Dont-Give-Up-Secrets-S_-King

Make the reader care about your character

 

Let’s face it—if the reader doesn’t care about the characters it won’t matter what they do. They could get hit by a bus and the reader couldn’t be less interested. But we care about things, people for one of the following reasons:

 

  • Wethink that we know them; it’s why you peek through the blinds when the cops show up at your neighbor’s house
  • We have some connection with them; friends and associates with whom we share the same interest
  • They are interesting; they may be over the top beautiful, smart or gifted. They may be completely narcissist or evil or high strung or funny.
  • They have something we wish we had

So I had to take time to develop my characters to make them compelling, interesting, keeping in mind the reasons above. I had to make the reader feel that there would be payoff if they just continued to read.

A_Dark_and_Stormy_Night


 

Create foreboding

Movies create foreboding all the time—that feeling that something is about to happen. They do so with music—when all know the something-bad-is-going-to-happen chords. They do so with lighting and close-ups. In writing we do it a number of ways. And here are a few:

  • Build a semblance of peace or tranquility and because it is a story we realize it is a set-up for something to disrupt this perfect peace.
  • Write short sentences to create a sense of urgency.
  • Use questions. She knew she’d closed the door and locked it—or had she?

Honestly we love foreboding even if we don’t admit it—but that is only if the payoff is worth it. Build them up, up up and then let ‘em have it.

Keep the story moving

There is nothing more grating than reading a long, lofty description that seems to go…well…nowhere. Descriptions are great when they are essential and become a true element of the story. Keeping the story moving becomes easier when we keep the point of the story in mind; when we constantly remember that there is a place that we are headed. If we get stuck in a place or scene then our reader is stuck too.

Save the best for last

Even as the story is moving remember that the reader wants a payoff. We all love a surprise element as we near the end. As readers, by the time we get to the last portion of the book we think we have it figured out. It is nice to get that twist, that final OMG. If it is crafted correctly, in other words, fits into the story line it works well as an excellent last ping.

To make sure your story is paced properly I believe that beta readers are invaluable. And what are the words you want to hear? I simply could not put it down.

 

How do you hit your target audience?

How do you hit your target audience?

 

hitting target

Several years ago my brother started a travel agent business and asked me to create a marketing blurb for his website. My first question to him was, “What is your target audience?” To which he replied, “Everyone. This business is for everyone.” It took us several days to come to the  agreement that marketing strategies by their very nature are targeted towards a specific group. It is not to say that your product won’t have crossover appeal but there is a core group to whom you will aim to please. The same is true with writing—whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

Focusing specifically on fiction there is a die-hard group that will devour every piece of historical fiction they can get their hands on. Some love thrillers and this is the first section they seek at the bookstore. Your book, your story will be written with an audience in mind. You will know them because either you are a part of that group or you have done your research.

Aim to get published

When you first begin to write your novel you will write from the heart. You have a story to tell and whether it is about flesh-eating zombies or nuns forsaking all for love it will come from your soul from which all questions stir. You chose this story because your imagination would not let you deny it. At the root of every story is the connection you have to it; every story you write will be a part of you in some way; it is life experiences mingled with knowledge and creative thoughts. But as you begin to go back edit and rewrite you will become more focused on your target audience. Those that say they don’t think about this because they are simply writing what they want are either not looking to get published or content with having their group of family and friends as their audience. This is not totally unheard of; William P. Young said that he only had his family and a few close friends in mind when he wrote The Shack. But they begin to share it with the world. Well, this doesn’t happen often and so our focus must be on our core group of readers. Is it the young mom who busies herself with the kids all day and then falls head over for that beautiful romance novel in the evening?  Maybe it is the ex-military officer that delves into historical fiction every chance he gets. Editors want to know who it is that you aim to please, therefore you will want to know too.

Make the book hard to put down

We write to our target audience and still make it our own—our own voice, theme, in other words our way of viewing the world. We learn the genre if it isn’t one with which we are completely familiar. We read books by authors who are doing it and doing it well. I say, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Follow the tracks of the wheels already invented and later down the road veer on your own path. Have others who love the genre read your work. They know the flow of a sci-fi novel. They can decipher if certain technicalities are off. If you are a lover of the genre, write the kind of fiction you want to read—not the forgettable kind that you read on vacation and forget the storyline altogether by the time you’ve arrived home and unpacked. Write the mind gripping, gut-wrenching stuff that has you commenting to your FB friends on how great it was. You don’t know how to write such a story you say? Read the last book that did this for you. Now read it again and this time, not for pure pleasure. Pull on the techniques—why was it so compelling? What was it about the characters that made you care about them so much? Why did you cry at the end? And why are you still thinking about it even now?

Keep the target audience before you as you rewrite. Imagine them skimming the pages of your novel. See them laughing at certain points, glued to the pages while they are preparing dinner or listening via audio on their commute to work because they simply could not wait until the weekend. See them and write for them.

The painful art of fiction writing

The painful art of fiction writing

Somehow, many have the notion that published authors have the answers–matters not the question.  If we put pen to paper then certainly we have this wealth of knowledge swelling up inside and if we don’t get it out quickly certainly we will implode and the world will be left wanting.

 

Ernest Hemingway_sitandbleed

This is not any truer than the statement that people pursue medicine because they possess the cure to the diseases of the world. Doctors pursue medical knowledge to find cures. We write because we need answers. Writing allows us to dissect our fears and face them with focus. It is with words that we can ask the questions through our characters actions and dialogue and by presenting theme.

Fiction writing ventures to touch the taboo, the things we were told not to talk about–the disease of the human soul. It allows us to explore the reasons and ways we survive the unthinkable, how and why we thrive and live extraordinary lives despite circumstances hell-bent on destroying us.

Agatha Christie

Writing is cathartic. In writing fiction we share our experiences, transferring our pain and disappointment onto awaiting blank pages. We can do so without being condescending or preachy; we can do so without guilt or shame. We can do it without knowing the answers to all of the questions.

The truth is, writing our stories often invoke more questions than they answer and that’s OK. It is unlike non-fiction—self-help books, biographies and the like. Fiction awakens giants– towering monsters of anger, hurt, jealousy and racism, the like of which, we were content to allow their resting place. There is a connectedness of the human spirit that seeks to know why we do what we do. It is human nature to want to know why we can be such complicated, unpredictable enigmas and at the same time easy and uncomplicated.

 

Zora

If it hurts write it. Confused? Write on. As you allow your mind to reveal its secrets you will find a release; a peace will unfold, but not before you inflict upon yourself intense pain, face terrors of the soul and expose old wounds which healed awkwardly, incompletely.

But then, the healing will come. And although you may not know the answers your questions will all point vertically to a God who has all the answers. He is the creator of the soul. And even then all won’t be revealed to you—at least not in one fell swoop.  But you will begin to see light and understand that sometimes you don’t have to know the answers but only that they exist.