Today I am posting some more tidbits of wisdom garnered at the Carolinas Writers Conference. Chris Roerden is an editor and this was her second appearance at the annual conference. Chris knows more about editing than most people I know (including editors) and is happy to share her expertise. Some of what she told us was what we all learn when we start writing, but here are a few things I didn’t know.
- Attitude: The main character should have an attitude–that is, her world view, how she approaches her environment.
- We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell.” The character’s emotions are critically important. Don’t say, “She cried.” Show the reader how she cried. (If I showed the reader how I cried, I’d have to say “and snot came out of her nose.” Because I don’t cry pretty.) Showing is judgmental on the part of the author.
- Read the book you love twice, first for enjoyment and second to figure out how the author did it.
Author Michelle Buckman also made her second appearance at the conference. When we find someone who is good, we tend to ask them back. Here’s what I took away from her workshop:
- Show the protagonist’s characteristics in the opening page. The opening pages create a sympathetic character or situation.
- There has to be a reason for everything the character does. Things in the past affect the now and project into the future. (Here is where we can sow little clues in the beginning of the book that bear fruition when we come to the climax.)
- History is backstory and is necessary for depth but it doesn’t go up front. Your characters must have a history, but scatter it throughout the story. Avoid the dreaded “information dump.”
- Tie your characters together as closely as possible, but not in the way readers expect. Make the unlikely one step up. Surprise the reader to keep her interest.
- Create sympathetic characters and intriguing situations or a situation that relates to the reader’s life.
- Add enough layers to the character and plot so both are intriguing.
- What is her greatest fear? Why? What caused it? Have her face this fear.
- Who does he love most? Who does he hate? Reverse roles for a new dimension.
- Who is blocking the main character from achieving her goal? Who is her mentor?
- Have the lead character do something he would never do. Do the same thing with a secondary character.
- Find something about your secondary character that ties him to the main character.
You’ve probably heard all this before, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my WIP to see if I’ve created as many layers in my characters as I could.
Because there is nothing worse than a shallow, cardboard cut-out hero or heroine.