We often hear advice telling writers to “write what you’re passionate about.” Fair enough, especially if you as Rachelle Gardner says, “balance your passion with what the market will support.” For fiction writers, perhaps we should go one better. Write what your CHARACTER is passionate about.
Writing Tip for Today: The best fiction is always about the deep emotions of the character. If readers buy into those emotions, they’re hooked. How can you better write your character’s passions?
- Motivation is Key–But Back Story Can Wait. The moment we try to discern our character’s motivations, back story (aka flashback) rears its head. How do you get across the reasons for your Main Character’s (MC) present suffering without giving the reader a lot of background info? I suggest you go ahead and write the back story. Explore the MC’s story prior to the beginning of your novel, through letters from the MC to you, through research and through journaling from your MC’s POV. Generally most of this stuff does not belong in your novel–at least not in one large dose in the first chapter. Try using two or three sentences of back story here and there around the action of the forward story and on a need to know basis. And let these “beats” consist of emotion, not cut and dried info. There’s a reason Back Story’s initials are BS.
- RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. We all want to psychoanalyze our MC’s reasons for having certain emotions. Yet by skipping the Freudian stuff and concentrating on your MC’s emotions, you’re far more likely to get at the passion of that character. This is one place where showing not telling really matters. As a fab tweet from Bobbi Dempsey recently said: “Don’t tell me it’s raining. Show me how it feels to stand in the rain.”
- Use Environmental Emotions. Your novel’s setting can often show your character’s passions to great effect. Consider the above reference to rain. You would show what it feels like to stand in the rain from your MC’s POV. Depending on your character’s passions (what she cares about, what she wants desperately), you would filter the rain through her world view. She might shiver in a warm rain if she feels isolated, or let the sting of raindrops drive her to action. Using setting to magnify your character’s feelings helps readers to feel more totally in the experience of the story.