Hello there lovelies, this is Roxo from TheBeautifulOnes. I am very glad to be doing this post here with the Tangled girls.
So I am going to show you how to make characters believable, from Mindi Scott's beautiful debut, Freefall. She actually is going to have her second book, Live Through This published in the fall, so, check it out, she has beautiful prose.
In case you didn't read Freefall,(you totally should), here's a quick synopsis:
Seth has been the first to see his best friend dead. And the way he had died wasn't exactly dignifying. Neither was Seth's life. It's a slap in the face for him, facing death like that. He realizes that he should better wake up and start over. It's easy to say, but much harder to do; until he meets Rosetta and he finds out that other people have issues as well. Together, they learn to overcome them.
This is, in short, the plot of Freefall. The book has a very strong and credible male POV, a thing you rarely find in Young Adult fiction these days, especially now that most of it has female main characters.
As a writer of non-paranormal I was delightful to find out there's no magic around, and as I breathed the book in, I tried to learn as much as I could from the craft.
I will be starting at the beginning of the novel and provide examples. I'm going to try my best not to give away any spoilers.
The books starts with a party, and even though we are not explicitly told, the reader can infer that Seth has a troubled mind. There are hints to disclose his torment and his right from the very beginning:
The room I was trying not to go into was exactly where I kept ending up; the stuff I was trying not to drink was exactly what I'd been chugging all night.
The suggestion is simple and to the point, so the reader can easily understand the character. The male voice is clearly distinguishable from the somewhat more poetic and connotative discourse of the female characters.
As the story continues, the male voice becomes more and more distinct, as we learn how he puts up with the real problems in life of a messed-up teenager.
The back door slid across its track.
Open: loud music/ laughing/ talking.
Closed: muffled music/ laughing/ talking
As writers, we should know everything in a scene.
We have it in our minds, we press pause and everything freezes. That is when we detach from the window we're watching, and go investigate the surroundings of the scene in our head. We should see all the details: the lines across one's t-shirt, the way a hair stands out, unyielding to stay in place, one character's frown and another fidgeting with his keys. We should know what color the sky is at every moment and whether the cars are loud or if there's shouting in the streets. We must feel the smell of exhaust and taste the food we're feeding our characters.
But they wouldn't perceive it all. They would only see things according to their personality. A sensible girl would notice the fresh air and the soft grass under her toes, Seth McCoy notices the factors that disturb his silence.
To make her laugh again, I said, “All right. Fine. Be that way.”
It didn't work at all; I sounded like a dickhead.
What makes Mindi Scott's male voice believable is exactly situations like this one. As much as we love sarcastic comments and awesome dialogue, it doesn't happen in real life. This does: awkward, out of line responses, bad jokes and even worse attempts to fix the situation.
The approach here depends very much on the type of novel you want to write, and I have to admit it is risky to take this path, as people read to distance themselves from real, crappy life. Even with this risk, though, you have to make sure the dialogue sounds real. It helps if you read it aloud.
Another thing that makes us (well, me, at least) wonder in books is the sudden change a character makes. While that might work well in the whole plot and offer us an example worth reading, Seth's change is slow. Actually, the whole book is about this one change.
Imagine him saying: “I am going to stop drinking right now!”. For the rest of the novel we would have seen him fighting with the decision. But Mindi Scott has another technique. Check it out:
I wanted to try not drinking for a while and see where it went.
It's just like real life. You're never going to start running every day if you make a New Year's Resolution. But it might become a habit if one day in April, you might go for a run in the park, just to clear our mind. And then you realize you like it and then you go the next day, and the one after it, and you turn it into a habit.
My point is that you should imagine if what your character does is something you, or any person would do in real life. A strong character might do sudden changes, of course, but the motivation should be very well pointed out, and just as strong.
We weren't much closer than we'd been before,[...]. I breathed in her flowery shampoo until we'd dropped all the golf balls in. Then I reluctantly stood and helped her up.
This description sounds really natural, right?
My basic point is, to make something believable you have to examine it very well in real life, note all the details, extract the meaningful ones for your character and put it in words so that rendering it, the feeling remains the same.
I don't think there is a book to tell you exactly how to write, how to put down word by word. Good writing is maintaining the emotion, no matter of how it is written.
So that was it. Leave your suggestions in the comments. Tell me, what do you do to make characters feel true?