Thursday, June 11, 2009

Character Building Part II

Last post I discussed my methods for getting to now my characters and the importance of choosing the right name. If you missed it, click here. This time I'm going to discuss the techniques for making that character come alive for your reader.

There are two methods to reveal your characters and their traits - Direct and Indirect.

The differences between the two boil down to your basic show vs tell mantra of fiction writing.

Here are two samples.

Direct
- A fat car salesman in his late fifties, Frank Barrett, spent most of his free time paying mandolin and banjo in a western swing band.

Indirect - Rex left when I didn't respond, but not five minutes later, J.J. Reyna and Frank Barrett walked in together. Frank stood there for a minute toying with the pearl snaps on his outdated western shirt. I had to give it to those snaps. Holding back Frank's gut was no easy chore, and as much as he jacked with the things, always twisting and turning them with his sausage-like fingers, it was a wonder the buttons didn't pop off all together.

Frank Barret is one of the characters in my novel, Plundered Booty and that second passage comes directly from my manuscript.

The second is full of details and paints a more vivid picture, but to do so I had to use a lot more words. And I still didn't reveal all of his characters. The reader doesn't know from this that Frank plays in a band, or his exact age. However, in a novel where you have lots of time and can develop the character in layers, it is still much better to show the reader who and what the character is rather than tell them. Same goes for a short story, though words and time are much more limited there. And the direct method is often a good way to pass on relevant info on bit characters that may only be on one or two scenes.


Narrative isn't the only way to reveal character. Moreover, it's not even the best way. So next time, I'll give y'all my take and building characterizations via dialogue and action.

15 comments:

Angie Ledbetter said...

Good stuff, Travis.

Charles Gramlich said...

I struggle with this all the time. For secondary characters in an action oriented story, I generally find that "telling" is better because it gets on with the tale. Showing does take more words, but if the character is important I think that works best.

Hit 40 said...

Your indirect description was wonderful!! Very vivid.

I like the worn western shirt.

Ddusty said...

Enjoying your posts on writing, Travis. It is said that teaching something is the best way to learn it, and it is further said that teaching is the best way to understand your own process.

Names are HARD to come up with. Yikes. Specially in suburban cozies where everybody is supposed to LOOK normal.

Eric said...

Another great post. I can appreciate when indirect description is best, but I'm wondering when it's okay to use direct description? Or is that merely an example of telling and not showing, which we all know should be avoided at all costs?

Shauna Roberts said...

I'm enjoying this series on character building. Thanks, Travis.

Melanie Avila said...

Wonderful example!

Travis Erwin said...

Eric I use the direct method when the characters has only a brief appearance or when I am going for the chock factor. Sometimes it simply works to blurt something out so to speak. I could write My sister was a whore and it will slap the reader in the face. I could show the same thing by writing multiple scenes with guys leaving her apartment or something to that affect, but tit wouldn't hit the reader as hard or bluntly as jsut saying it.

Direct does have its place in writing, but the problem comes when you use it simply because it's easier and not for good reason or even on purpose. It boils down to not being a lazy writer.

Suzanne said...

Hi honey!!! Long time, no see! Okay, I'm not a writer like, I think everyone else on this comment page, so this is the honest to God truth. I like #2. As a reader. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet! I'd read that book. #1? A novella.

You know why I'm here? You're going to laugh. I'm arguing with Leah over on Kylie's blog about circumcision and realized I needed to come here to get your link. Yes, I'm TRYING to get my blog roll back up and running. Don't speak. I know, my life is crazy. Please, don't remind me.

Hope all is well. Glad to see you're still having fun!

XO

P.S. I didn't look, but I better be on your blog roll dammit/damit/damnit. Baby, how's it spelled. We go round and round on my blog about the proper spelling. You're a writer, so you must know.

P.S.S. Leave the fish alone.

Suzanne said...

Oh, just so you know, over on Skeeter's blog, we appear one above the other. How fitting!!!

Beth said...

And this is why writing is a skill & hard work – one must get it just right, make it look easy...

Rocketstar said...

Plundered Booty, are trying to start a new catch phrase, "I'd like to plunder that booty." ;o)

Barbara Martin said...

This is an interesting series on writing, Travis, that should help many writers at their craft.

Cloudia said...

Thanks for the lessons!
I Dislike the unreliable narrator, but it's an interesting indirect way to reveal character, eh?
PLEASE link me to MTM this week, OK?
;-)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll have a post tomorrow. A letter from Courtney Solomon's mother. She was the girl who was killed in Detroit a few weeks back. We don't realize that blogs are no longer making comments in isolation and we need to be very careful what we say.