For this lovely last week of September, we’re still working within our realistic creative writing series. If you’re just jumping in now, you can start at the beginning right here.
Otherwise, here’s what we’re covering today…
How far do you get inside your characters’ heads when they’re planning or plotting, talking or arguing, or doing anything else? The answer should be something along the lines of pretty far, though that immediately demands clarification.
Just because you, the author, are “pretty far” inside your characters’ heads doesn’t mean you have to detail every single, twisty, turny line of reasoning those complicated critters may have.
What it does entail is understanding their motivations so that you depict them as realistically as possible and they come across as naturally as possible.
Say you have a baker for a protagonist, and he’s responding to an upset customer who thinks the bread she bought last week went moldy way too fast. Understanding what’s motivating both of them helps you know how to make their dialogue more realistic.
Maybe she’s having a bad day herself and is taking it out on him. Perhaps she just found out that her husband lost his job. Plus, her busybody cousin called that morning and she ended up crying on him, which means the rest of the family is going to hear all about how she’s falling apart.
Her life is a mess!
None of that needs to be stated in the story, particularly if she’s a tertiary character (i.e., an extra). But it can still determine how long she rants about the moldy bread and what arguments she makes, such as:
“I just don’t understand how this could have happened.” – because she doesn’t understand how her husband lost his job.
“This is truly unacceptable. And you call yourself a professional?” – because that’s what she’d like to say to her cousin.
“This is not my fault.” – because she’s already feeling like her family is judging her for her now significantly reduced income.
He, meanwhile, might be trying to sound and look professional for professionalism’s sake but also to avoid making an utter scene in front of the other customers in the bakery, which would have him responding to her like this:
“Well, it has been an unusually humid summer. Once additional moisture gets into the bread, it’s just not going to last long.”
“I stand by my bread, ma’am, but I’m very sorry you’re so upset. How about I give you a loaf. On the house.”
“I in no way meant to say it was your fault. But how about that free loaf? Or I can give you a refund if you’d prefer.”
Essentially, when you know what your character wants – such as a life that doesn’t feel like it’s falling apart, or a crazy customer to just leave already before she makes other customers run away and never come back – it’s easier to keep them sounding, looking and acting in a manner that makes sense.
This applies just as easily to villains. Are they behaving the way they do because they just enjoy hurting people – which is possible, but rare, for the record – because they’re desperate to establish themselves worthy of respect, or because they were spoiled rotten as children?
Each of those reasons will lead to different behavior or different ways of expressing that behavior.
When everything is said and done, you want to know your characters like you know yourself. Once you do, your readers should be able to catch on as well.
Want to know more about how to write realistic creative fiction? Then Part 5 is waiting for you here.