Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting Into Character: Can you fill your Hero's Shoes?

Hi, I am the Australian author of the epic science fiction and fantasy series 
will be released by Museitup Publishing in September 2011.

Ok, here goes. This is a workshop, so put away the fluffy slippers and sharpen your quills.

 How to stay in your character’s head.

 A useful analogy is to think of a cameraman filming a scene. Since many of us see our stories played out like movies in our heads as we write, this should make sense. To begin the shoot our camera angle would be using a wide lens  to give an overview for the audience. 

Once established the camera closes in. Zooming into focus we now view our character's and begin to create empathy with them. As the scene progresses the camera records a rise in tension, conflict or establishes how the main character is feeling.
The camera, the vision we witness through the lens, is only able to convey what is SEEN or what the character believes. The camera cannot tell what other characters are thinking. Neither can the main character when using this POV. If a camera cannot SEE a thought, neither can the character. To suddenly read minds is to change POV and will distance the reader. 

Another useful idea is that if a artist cannot DRAW the information, it is telling, not showing. A little harder to grasp, but give it some thought. Can you see Anger? He was angry. Is telling. His fist clenched, his brow lowered, he cast an angry glare toward the broken mirror. You can draw clenched fists, lowered brow, an angry glare. Just a tip to remember. 

It is important when writing from your character’s POV to only reveal the thoughts and reactions of your character experiences. Actions and emotions of other characters can be described as if seen by the main character, but they must be interpreted through the main character’s eyes. More on this later.

The advantage over the camera is the author can share the main character’s emotions, while witnessing the scene. Their anxiety, happiness, pain or anticipation are available for the author to share.

 The tools for doing this are probably best learnt and understood through participation, rather than reading notes. So, let’s begin.

 Getting into our Character’s shoes…

 The aim of our workshop today is to be able to describe in a hundred words (or less), the simple act of putting on a pair of shoes, boots or trainers, from our character’s viewpoint.

Try to visualize and describe the shoe, the foot…

Give the reader an idea of how the character feels, are they about to begin a journey, go on a date? Is our character refreshed, exhausted, anticipating a big night, an interview, meeting someone?

What does our character smell? Taste? Hopefully nothing too bad, being shoes and feet but in a fantasy world where bathing is scarce. Hmm… doesn’t bare thinking about… or does it?

Describe the texture of the shoe, the skin of the feet, stockings, socks as our character experiences them.

 Thinking about our exercise let’s look at what not to do…

 Gerald hoped no one would notice his boots needed cleaning. He wondered if the day old socks would do another outing. Taking a deep breath, he smelt them. The odor made him recoil. He decided he needed a new pair.

 The words that distance us from Gerald’s POV are hoped, wondered, would, smelt, made, decided.

The same information written from Gerald’s POV without the distance might go…

 Gerald rubbed mud from the toe of his boot. With luck no one would notice the scuffed leather or mud stained soles. He dragged day old socks over freshly washed feet, sniffing as tell tale odors insulted his nose. Recoiling, he tossed them aside and grabbed a new pair from the drawer.
 We can improve on this example too. What do you suggest? Share your ideas.

Post your examples in the comments if you would like feedback. Use this example or one of your own.

 Deep and meaningful.

The psychologists tell us that when we talk face to face with someone, we only assimilate 10% of our information from what they say. The other 90% comes from tone of speech, body language, nuances and innuendo. If you watch ‘Lie to Me’ you will see how the science of body language has enabled the characters in this show to almost read minds. To use their level of information when writing would mean each conversation could evolve into a three page essay. We need to be concise and succinct while informing our readers as much as possible.

 These examples demonstrate the importance of giving your character a chance to share what they interpret. Back to Gerald…

 “Hello Sweetie,” she said. “ I have something to tell you.”

 “Hello Sweetie.” Gerald turned at the sound of her voice. She drew herself to her full height. Arms folded, foot tapping, she glared down her nose. “I have something to tell you.”

“Hello Sweetie.” She slid across the bench and draped an arm across his shoulders. Gerald recoiled. Enveloped in a cloud of her whiskey breath, he dared not breathe lest his blood alcohol level exceeded legal limits. He leaned away but a determined squeeze warned him against ignoring her. A glance into clear, focused eyes betrayed the largess of alcohol. “I have something to tell you.” Clear, crisp words, spoken sotto voce suggested urgent need. Once uttered, her shoulders slumped, arm slithered free and she stumbled toward the door.

“Hello Sweetie.” The sound of her voice grated. Gerald turned. Her manicured hand lifted in an artificial wave. She walked across the room, a catwalk strut, designed to turn heads. Gerald braced as she ‘air kissed’ both cheeks in greeting. “I have something to tell you.” She said glancing toward the full length window. Gerald followed her gaze to where her reflection preened in glorious clarity. Forgotten, he relaxed. 

 That was fun and we only just begun to delve into some of the senses Gerald interpreted from each scene. These might be a bit clunky, but we have avoided; Gerald thought, realized, saw,  or knew. Or, ‘she seemed’, or  ‘as if she’ . Although not really jumping out of the character’s POV, there are often times we can avoid using these distancing words and phrases. As always we have avoided using 'was', 'had', 'were', and those pesky 'telling' words.

 Ok, now it’s your turn.
Remembering what we have picked up from previous workshops, try to include all five senses as you work.
 Take a simple line of dialogue and see what you can do with how your character reacts to the words and their delivery. Post them in the comments if you are prepared to share.

Thanks for participating.
Time zone problems might delay answers, but check back. I will return. There is only 14 hours difference.


Wendy said...

Getting inside a characters head is a great way to descibe pov. I like your camera angle (note the clever pun here) but I love you srtist analogy. I hadn't thought in terms of what we might draw. Thank you for that.

100 words putting on a pair of shoes. hmm...not too good at instant exercises, but if you'll edit...

A sequined shoe wriggles its red tip through tissue in the box on Suzy's bed. I should return to my own room, but a peek at the price tag can't hurt. A black marker has reduced the value from $450 to $300. I wonder what it feels like to hold such luxury and lift out the shoes, just for a moment. Metallic sequins cool my burning cheeks. Hyperventilating at the delicious scent of new leather, I kick of my shoes and sit on the edge of Susy's bed.

She won't mind if I try them on, surely. My feet slip easily into the cushioned softness. A little snug. Perhaps I should remove my socks. Hope the pong from my sneakers doesn't penetrate to the shoes. #

Sorry well over word limit and not exactly what you asked for - but I did have to think about words so that has to be good
Thanks for the exercise.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Hi Wendy,
Thank you for being brave enough to share your example. I can feel the cool sequins, smell the new leather but I am a bit doubtful about the smell of your sneaker socks!!

Can I suggest a slight change, to your first sentence. Perhaps :
"The tip of a sequined shoe catches my eye as it wriggles its red tip through tissue... "
Can you see how that clarifies whose POV we are in?

Usually I try to avoid 'she/he wondered' but in first person, it seems to work fine. I rarely use this POV.. so you have me thinking too.

Again, thanks for sharing.

Wendy said...

I do see what you mean about nailing the character's pov in the 1st sentence. You probably guessed, I don't use 1st person present tense either. Just experimented. Might have another go at putting myself in my characters shoes tomorrow, in the easier, for me, 3rd person. Very good exercise. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Rosalie - I like the idea of focusing and looking through the lense of a camera...and also 'Lie to Me' is one of my favorite shows.
I appreciate your sharing those paragraph samples also - real eye-openers on body language and how it changes the whole meaning/direction of conversation.

Lisa Forget said...

Wow, Rosalie! Love this post.

I really appreciate your examples and your advice and plan to save the information you've sharing in this workshop close at hand for future (very near future) reference.

Thank you so much!

Lisa Forget said...

oops...that should have read - "you've shared in this workshop."

Christopher Hoare said...

Hi Rosalie:

Liked the variations on greetings---poor Gerald is on the hook again?

The other thing to remember in the camera panning trick is not to jerk the camera about. Pan the scene smoothly and don't let the description jump out of order---distant ones first and then coming nearer, but don't skip back to a more distant one as if you forgot it.

J.Q. Rose said...

I enjoy your examples. Really helps to make the info clear and spurs me on to "show" the story. Excellent!

jabberingjo said...

She had thrown away all the size ten clothes in her closet, now Sarah reached for her shoe holder. Bright, shiny, gold stilletos caught her eye.
Sitting on the side of the bed,she forced the shoes on her swollen feet. Memories of ball-room dances, with beautiful people dressed in bright gowns and somber tuxedos filled her mind. Music, soft and rythmic, vases of sweet smelling flowers, and the flow of champagne tantalilzed her memory.
With a sigh, Sarah removed the shoes and placed them in the give-away box. The hated orthopedic shoes replaced the golden shoes as eighty-year-old Sarah limped out to the kitchen of her old house.

Thank you for your lesson. I needed that. J. Rose Knight (joan)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Wow, what an excellent job of describing deep pov. Thanks for sharing this valuable info. Have a super Tuesday.

Lawna Mackie said...

Great tips! I really enjoyed the examples you provided. It really is a good reminder that when we write we need to describe exactly what we want the reader to see so they can feel it.

Thanks for the excellent post!

Lawna Mackie

Charlie said...

Great blog post Rosalie. I loved your thoughts about looking at the story through a camera lens. Wonderful. I chose to do a paragraph with my current wip. Hope I have captured what you are after. This helped me get in touch with my character Alex. Enjoyed the exercise.
C.K. Volnek

“I want the box!”
Carrick’s hiss made Alex swallow his gum, a shiver rising from his converse tennis shoes until every hair on his head was standing at attention. He stared at the manicured man with hair as black as tar and almost as greasy, the smell of fish-breath forcing him to hold his breath. Was that what caviar smelled like? Carrick’s eyes burned into him, invisible fingers reaching in to wrench the words from his gaping lips. Alex clamped his mouth shut tight before he could accidently let the location of the box slip. He had to protect it, at all costs.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Thanks Wendy, glad you found the feedback helpful.
Kay Dee we can learn a lot about body language from Lie To Me... while enjoying the entertainment.
Lisa, I am glad you found the workshop useful.
Christopher, Yeah, it's not Gerald's day! LOL.
It is true, we must remember to use good camera skills, as we write. Good point!
J Q Rose, If it helps you show not tell, that's great. I am thrilled. If we are inside our character's head, it's much easier to avoid the temptation to tell what's happening.
Thank Joylene and Lawna,, glad you found the exercises helpful.
I wondered about giving the examples, but seems they are useful. Phew.
Joan, Wendy and Charlie you all get gold stars for being brave and offering your work for review. ***** (stars)Thank you!!

Joan you have given us a beautiful description. A story in itself.
The only thing I suggest altering is "eighty-year-old Sarah limped". This sounds less like Sarah's thoughts. Maybe "as Sarah heaved her eighty year old body toward the kitchen." Can you see how that keeps in her POV more?

Charlie, another great example. Thanks.
One suggestion looking at POV, is 'Carrick's eyes burned into him'. Somehow I find the 'into him' unnecessary. They are staring at each other so the burning eyes and invisible fingers are directed at Alex.
Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your WIP. Sounds dynamic.

I found writing this workshop and reading your responses made me think more about POV. It has been a great experience for me. Glad it it has helped you too. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and participate.

Anonymous said...

I found this one really good. I especially liked the definition about show vs. tell. It's like drawing. Very nice. That (and passive voice) were two of the writing rules I had the hardest time grasping when I started out. I still get lazy from time to time, unfortunately.

Thanks for sharing.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Hi Blackwoodforest, So glad you found those hints helpful. Passive voice and show v tell are always a problem and any tips to avoid them is helpful to me too.
I think we all get lazy at some time. That's why we need to leave our draft and edit later. When we are fresh and in the right frame of mind we can fix those problems easily.

Nike Chillemi said...

I like how you put it about the POV character seeing a thought. Sometimes the character can see a thought go over another character's face, or feel a mood change in another character. But that's the only way the POV character will know, through observation. Or if the other character says something in dialog.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Nike, that is so true and in essence it is the secret of keeping in your character's POV. Only write what they can observe, experience or hear in conversation. You have nailed it.

JerryR said...

Wow! Good job with this days blog. I'm saving it for future view. btw, i'm going to attempt to post the 1st two paragraphs of my current WIP. They''ll be separated by // Hope i did them right.

A gasp escaped Davon Cole’s throat at the sight of a pair of eyes glaring at him only inches from his face. Hatred fumed from their dark pupils and the god awful odor of beer breath flooded his nostrils. His cheek and ear stung from the unexpected palm of a hand slamming into the side of his face. The violent sound effect rang in his ear. His back leaned against something firm, and without warning a sudden jolt jarred his entire body as though he’d been kicked hard in his side. He rolled onto his left side and lifted his torso up. His lids flickered while he sat on his butt. The second his lids lifted confusion drifted into his mind. //
His eyes scanned the area around him. Beneath him a mattress and rumpled sheets damp with his sweat. His body glistened with a light coat of perspiration. Sunlight filtered through the room. His laptop sat on a small narrow, wood desk. A high back leather swivel chair stood in front of it. A couple of seconds passed before he knew he’d been in his bedroom by himself. //
“Crap,” he muttered. I haven’t thought about Marcus since he stormed out of my life. And I don’t want to start now. So why did that memory of him just haunt me?”

Are those done right for his POV/

Rosalie Skinner said...

Great scene. Well done POV. Only comment I would make is in the sentence 'A couple of seconds passed before he knew he’d been in his bedroom by himself.' If you could lose 'he knew'. Perhaps, 'It took a couple of seconds to establish he'd been in his bedroom by himself.'
Does that make sense?
Thanks for sharing. Interesting scene you have shared.