Focus on Character

Monterey is magical and mysterious. Though when you come upon the tourists, trinkets, sea lions and otters, the man with the monkey grinder and the man with the parrots, you think how so? You must wait for the fog. In late afternoon when the fog rolls in, or if it hasn’t lifted all day, when mists curl around weeping cypresses and magnolias in Monterey’s secret gardens and drift through the diffused yellow light of coach lanterns on the House of Four Winds, when the moon rises over the stone well at the Larkin House, you enter another world. Your story has just ghosted in. Put down your character. Pull in the reader. Keep her there.

Readers ride up and down with character. If reading is a place where we experience an array of human emotions from a safe place, you, as a writer, need to merge the world between reader and character so the reader experiences a character’s emotions. A reader may pull out if she doesn’t like or empathize with the main character for a number of reasons: the character isn’t credible (his actions aren’t consistent with his world view), he’s flat and boring, he doesn’t have to struggle, as the rest of us do, he doesn’t change. In literary fiction, it’s the characters’ world in which readers congregate.

Open with character, focus on character, filter action and objects and description through a character’s point of view. Readers want to see characters struggle and overcome obstacles, although not everyone overcomes obstacles, because everyone is a jumble of emotions. All of which is to say it’s important to develop characters with depth. The difference between thriller writers John Le Carre ¬†and Graham Greene and other thriller writers is that Le Carre’s and Green’s characters struggle with moral failures and ambiguities. Plots don’t drive their fiction; their characters’ difficulties and failings do.

When readers find characters human, with frailty and strength, they’ll follow them anywhere. Creating fully rounded characters who experience the gamut of human emotions is the first step in carrying a story forward after you’ve opened and created a world. Character drives story.

One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to minimize the distance between reader and character so the reader begins to think and feel like the character, as if she were actually that character. She experiences fear, love, sadness, shame and longing as the character does.

Bring the reader into the character’s head

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