At a rummage sale, I discovered a book about Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin, and I snatched it up before anyone else discovered it. With a grin, I plunked down my money.
I was eager to know more about that remarkable lady so I hurried home and curled up with it, thick and heavy, anticipating a delightful read.
The book was anything but delightful, however. My eagerness turned to disappointment, and disappointment turned to dislike. After an hour, I quit.
A few days later I gave that book a second chance: I forced myself to read but, after a few minutes, I closed it with that same disinterest.
That book lacked appeal, it lacked charm, it lacked personality, it lacked life. It contained page after page of dry, dull facts.
The lesson for all of us: Let’s give our stories’ characters life.
Recently I suggested that summer might be a good time to take a break from writing so you can revise vignettes you’ve already written.
We covered clarity on June 23, and today we’ll look at the people in your stories.
How do we craft multidimensional characters?
We use details to describe our stories’ main people.
Let’s start with their quirks, their idiosyncrasies, their oddities.
I was tempted to give examples by telling you about friends’ or relatives’ eccentricities but instead, I’ll poke fun at myself.
Recently someone pointed out that I slurp my coffee. Then someone pointed out my husband and my kids slurp their coffee. My brother slurps his coffee. This slurping has gone on for generations but we weren’t aware of it. Our habit drives family newcomers nuts.
My daughter teases me for never remembering a joke’s punch line. The family cracks up just watching me try to remember it.
My husband ribs me because, he says, I sneeze like a horse.
And I learned this tidbit a few days ago: “Linda has this funny way of gasping when she sees something funny, or scary, or sad, or amusing, or interesting, or dangerous, or boring. I often think something is about to fall on my head.” I had no idea.
I also learned that after impressionable young people hang out with me for a few days, they start to gasp, too. I had no idea.
OK, so there you have it: some of my quirks. I hope they give you ideas for capturing uniqueness in your stories’ characters.
Include body language, gestures, and mannerisms.
Slip in their habits, their education, their likes and dislikes.
Was his career also his passion? Or did he work at a job to feed and clothe his kids and seek his passion on weekends and evenings?
What were her talents, hobbies, pastimes, dreams, and hopes for the future?
What were his values, beliefs, political leanings, and philosophies?
Use dialog to capture words she often used, the way she put words together in a sentence, and her tone of voice.
When you describe your main characters, use all five senses: Let readers see, smell, hear, feel, and taste what you experienced.
Shallow, hollow, dull, and bland are out!
Charm, fascination, and entertainment are in!
For inspiration and smiles, I recommend Connie Schultz’s vignette that ran in Sunday’s Parade magazine; click on It’s a Wonderful Life.
Always remember Donald Murray’s words: “Revision is not punishment.”
Revision is your opportunity to polish your manuscript and make it shine.