Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Actions and Reactions

by Annette Lyon

One of the most common problems I see in beginning writers' work is that the story is reported factually. "He said this. She replied this. He did this. She did that."

By this point, I’m reaching for a chocolate donut, because I’ve lost interest—even if the plot line itself has a great premise and I want to know more.

Why? Because I don’t care about the characters or even know enough about what they're doing, thinking, and feeling to care.

This is where point of view becomes crucial. In any given scene, the reader should be firmly entrenched in one person’s head. That means we’re not just observing the scene from the outside, but from their eyes. We know what they’re thinking. We feel what they feel. We react the way they react.

But just choosing a POV character isn't enough. You can pick one and still be a newspaper reporter about the events unless you show what the character is experiencing.

That can’t happen with a laundry list of events, no matter how exciting those events are. If Joe says something shocking, Jane needs to react to it. Is she feeling hurt? Afraid? Angry? Does she laugh out loud?

Great. Show the reader. (Remember: don’t TELL us that she’s hurt/afraid/laughing. SHOW us.)

Do Joe and Jane have a romantic doorstep moment? Then don’t rush through it, saying that he kissed her and then she went inside. That's cheating the reader. Instead, explain what she felt as he kissed her (assuming she’s the POV character), what she felt when it ended, and what’s going on in her head, heart, and body as she goes into the house.

Print out a chapter of your work in progress and read it aloud. After each line of dialogue and each action, pause and ask yourself if the "movie" that’s in your head has really made it onto the page, or if there’s more you can add to flesh out the characters, the scene, the feelings within the story. Mark each spot that needs more. Then go back and flesh it out.

This can be a fun revision if you consider your first draft to be the bones of your story and then go back and to add the body to it—the muscles, the skin, the hair, the fine lines and details that make an okay piece stand out and come alive.


Janette Rallison said...

Great blog, Annette. I used it in my presidency message about using POV in our ANWA newsletter. (with your byline and a plug for writersinheels).

Thanks so much.

You rock!

Heather B. Moore said...

I like your analogy at the end, Annette. My first drafts are definately just bones.