Essential advice for fiction writers, aspiring novelists, and editors from Jodie Renner, highly respected fiction editor and author of three award-winning craft-of-writing guides, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as time-saving QUICK CLICKS e-resources.
With all the high-quality, exciting fiction being published these days, it’s absolutely critical to captivate readers right away and keep them eagerly turning the
pages of your story.
The most effective way to really engage readers emotionally and bond them to your character is by using deep point of view to
get up close and personal with your character, and at the same time, creating an authentic,
compelling voice for your story, a fresh, original tone and style.
How do you do that? First,
create a strong, charismatic main character, then let that character share his or her
story directly with us, with no intermediary -- or as little other narration as possible.
The best way to create a compelling "voice" for your story is through the words, thoughts, attitudes, and reactions of your main character.
Try tobecome your
character(s) for the story. Make a conscious effort not to intrude as the author (or a neutral narrator) to tell readers
anything or explain or describe things.
Let the POV character for the scene show the setting, reveal other characters, and build the story world in his or her own unique voice, with attitude, using words and phrasing that are natural to their own personality and mood and their personal reaction to the situation at that moment.
Rather than writing neutral narration, take a tip from
first-person POV and keep not only the dialogue, but all of the narration
(observations and explanations) for each scene firmly in the viewpoint of the
main character for that scene, colored by his or her background, personality,
attitudes, and current feelings (emotional and physical).
Here are some concrete tips for engaging
readers and creating a strong voice in third-person point of view (“he” or “she”
instead of “I”):
~ Start with a compelling
character that readers will identify with and root for.
Your main character needs to be charismatic and sympathetic
enough to carry the whole novel, so it’s critical to take the time to first create
a protagonist who’s intriguing and multi-dimensional, with lots of personality
and openness; fairly strong views; and some baggage, secrets, vulnerability, and
inner conflict. Then be sure to show his world and the events unfolding around
him through his eyes, ears, and feelings, not the author’s, or that of an
~ Make sure the
dialogue and thoughts are unique to that character.
Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds like that
character would actually talk, given their personality, upbringing, education, and social standing, as well as the current situation, how they feel about it, and who
they’re conversing with. (We usually speak differently in a formal situation or to a professional than to a close friend or family member.)
~ Write the narration
from the character’s point of view, too.
Take it one step further and stay in your character’s POV
for the observations, descriptions, and explanations, too, not just the
dialogue and any inner thoughts and reactions. It’s your character who’s moving
through that world, reacting to what’s around him. Don’t describe the
surroundings and what’s going on from a distant, neutral, authorial point of
view – show the character’s world directly through her observations, colored by
her personality, mood, and comfort level.
~ Don’t intrude
as the author to explain things to the readers.
Even technical and other explanations should be presented (briefly) through the characters, perhaps in a sparky dialogue with disagreement and attitude.
Be on the lookout for where you step in as the author to
blandly and dispassionately explain things to the readers, as if it’s
nonfiction. Besides being a less engaging read, that approach yanks us out of
the character’s mindset and world – and out of the fictive dream.
Remember – show,
TIPS FOR KEEPING NARRATION AND DESCRIPTION IN THE VIEWPOINT CHARACTER'S VOICE:
Here are a few little techniques for livening up
information-sharing and imparting it with attitude, from the viewpoint of the
POV character involved.
~ Use stream-of-consciousness journaling.
To bring out the character’s personality in the parts where
he’s thinking or planning or worrying or ruminating, not just when he is
interacting with others, do some stream-of-consciousness journaling by him.
Have him ranting in a personal diary about the people around him, what’s going
on, etc. Also show his deepest fears here. Then use this wording to show his
personality more in the scenes.
~ Write the scene in first-person first, then switch it
Write a whole scene, or even a chapter or two, in
first-person narration/POV (“I”) to get the rhythm and flow of that person’s
language patterns and attitudes, then switch it to third-person.
~ Write with attitude!
To bring the setting, scene, and characters to life, deliver those
details through the viewpoint of the main character for that scene, in their
voice and wording, with strong views and a controversial mindset that projects
their current mood, physical and emotional reactions, and general attitude.
~ Impart info
through lively dialogue.
Rather than intruding as the author to explain something to
the readers, have characters arguing about it, or use a spirited
question-and-answer dialogue exchange to inform the readers naturally, through
Read your dialogue and narration
out loud to make sure it sounds natural and authentic to your characters’
backgrounds and personalities.
To summarize, for an engaging “voice” in
third-person, be sure to use deep point of view and stay in the POV character’s
head in the narration, too. In a nutshell, bring your fiction to life by
stepping back as the author and letting the characters tell the story.
Readers - feel free to share in the comment section below a passage from a story you've read -- or written -- depicting a scene shown through the eyes, ears, attitude, and current mood of the character.
For more detail on getting readers up close and personal with your protagonist, see my articles on point of view, here on this blog: POV 101, POV 102, POV 103, and Quick Tips for Avoiding Viewpoint Gaffes.
more valuable tips, with examples, for writing compelling fiction, check out
Jodie Renner's award-winning fiction-writing guides,Writing a Killer
Thriller, Fire up Your Fiction, and Captivate Your Readers,
available at all Amazon sites and elsewhere. For Amazon, click on the links
~ Fire up Your Fiction –
An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories