Posted in character, character development, characterization, good writing, great writing, how to write, learning to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing and thinking, writing better

A Study of Character: At the Mall

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last month I did a post called A Study of Character: At the Park. I focused on being at the park and how watching the children and adults can make for interesting character study as they can show us the variety of emotions in a short time. I would like to expand on this topic a little and now talk about the study of character at the mall and how it can be a great way to come up with character descriptions and mannerisms for your next character.

Have you ever stopped, sat down on a bench, and just watched the people walk by you at a mall? Sure we all go to the mall. We may even notice people passing that make us take a second look. We may even stop and stare at the man in orange pants with a Mohawk and tattoos on every visible surface of the skin. But it’s the more interesting stuff that can be seen when sitting down and watching.

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Posted in character, character development, characterization, how to write, inspiration, inspirational, learning about writing, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

A Study of Character: At the Park

MP900202010As a mother of a five year old boy, I find that I frequent the local parks quite a bit. In fact, it is probably my most visited location besides the grocery store since my son’s birth. In spending a lot of time at playgrounds, I’ve discovered a true writing treasure- the ability to study a wide variety of characters and the basic human condition in just an hour or two of doing my most important job of all- “being mom”.

Want to get a good glance at an array of human behaviors from antagonistic, insecure, mischievous to friendly, confident, and intuitive? Just take a trip to the park, and let this small playground world give a glimpse into the bigger world. It’s a cast of characters waiting to be plucked for a story or novel, or just to be studied to understand reactions to certain situations. It’s humanity raw with all the complexities of adulthood stripped away. It’s the simplicity of behaviors at the most infant stage. Friendships are forged in a matter of one slide down the big red twisty slide. Or witness that awkward moment when no one can agree on what to play, or personalities clash like a display of colorful fireworks. It’s all there to see for anyone willing to watch. It’s where priceless moments are created and children learn to belong, or just find out how annoying some kids can really be. But the kids aren’t the only illuminating presences at the park. Some of the most interesting playground lurkers are the parents themselves.

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Posted in character, characterization, how to write, Michael Knost, online class, The Writer's Toolbox, unforgettable characters, writing, writing advice, writing better

Using Body Language to Tell Your Story

I recently took an online class through my friend and fellow writer Michael Knost on body language, and wanted to share some of the highlights that I found helpful. This was a topic I knew some about from other writing sources, but his class really brought everything into prospective for me.

Body language is essential in creating believable characters. It’s the subtle things like a smile in just the right place of a conversation, or a small touch of the hand that can change the whole way a reader perceives a character. When you show a character through their body language, you are allowing the reader to size up the character without spoon feeding information that might push the reader from the story. The reader wants to feel intelligent as he or she comes to their own conclusions. It’s the writer’s job (you) to be invisible enough to help lay out the signs or clues that get the reader to where you want them to go.

Check out some of these statistics…

55% of communication consists of body language
38% is expressed through voice
7% is communicated through words

Yeah, I was kind of shocked by the only 7% is communicated through words. Kind of made me feel small and unimportant with all my writing, which then made me realize that it’s all in how you express those words. That’s the key ingredient to really great writing. So my next thought was… how do my own characters express themselves?

There are 4 major ways for a character to use body language to express themselves…

  • Facial Expressions
  • Gestures
  • Body Posture
  • Space

What are the eyes of your character saying? Is your character fidgeting from boredom or restlessness? Is your character sitting forward to soak up everything another character is telling them? Or is your character in someone’s face for something that made them angry?

Also consider this… does your character’s actions match their words? Readers will believe body language and tone over what someone says. If a character says they’re open to a new idea, but crosses their arms or turns their body away, what the reader really sees is a character who is closed and rejecting the message, but not willing to admit the truth. This sort of “mixed signal” can be used to add to the character, or story. It can also take away from the character and story, if not done correctly.

When using body language it usually helps to build it up to a series of actions, because some body languages (like smiles, fidgeting, or no eye contact) can mean several different things. Writers should give about 5 clues within a scene to show context of an emotion (through body language) without coming out and saying it. This will help lead the reader to make his own conclusion.

Body language is your character. Make sure that that all body language is important, if it isn’t, cut it out. Also get rid of overly used gestures, or body language like… she sighed or he winked. Find new or better ways for your character to express themselves. Remember that too much of a good thing can tip your hand to make the writer visible to the reader. Great writers disappear as their story comes alive.

Posted in characterization, descriptive, good description, how to be more descriptive, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

Description Part 1: 3 Elements of Good Description

Description allows the reader to visualize the people, places, settings, and objects in your story. Description is important because good, effective description paints a vivid picture that immerses the reader into your story, which allows for a deeper experience for the reader. A well written description moves the story forward and adds to characterization. There are three main elements of good description.

  1. Specific well written detail– Be specific about what you want to say. Less is more, so find the right word or words to show detail. Stay away from ambiguous descriptions like suddenly, look, like, good. These words aren’t giving you the biggest bang for your buck. (For more about words to avoid check out Grammar Guru: Words to Avoid.) Also go a little deeper and use sensory detail. The use of sensory detail detail is a key element in good description. Try to use all when writing; sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Note: Do not rely too heavily on sight itself, instead try to use some of the other four for variety and depth.

  1. Revelation of the characters inner life– A story will be more balanced and descriptive of the characters if their inner life or struggle is depicted. Go inside your character’s “head” and show the reader what’s going on, what thoughts are going on.

Note: When choosing whose point of view to write in, remember that describing something from a certain character’s point of view can change the whole feel of a story. Figure out who will make the story more lively and entertaining to read.

  1. Motivation, the impulse that drives the character– Motivation is essential to convincing the reader that they should care about your character. It is when you can reach out to the reader and show them what lies beneath.

Want to be more descriptive? Look around you at the people, places, and things in a new way. Notice not just the obvious details, but the less obvious, subconscious details. Keep a notebook of the things that stand out and you’ll be amazed at how your new look at the world will reshape the way you write.

Check out the next 2 parts of this series…

Description Part 2: 6 Pitfalls of Description
Description Part 3: The Secret to Good Description