Writers in the Storm

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June 1, 2016

Use Your Summer Activities to Deepen Your Character's POV (and more!)

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

The good news is I survived eight days of hiking in Yosemite.
The better news is I got great pictures of a setting for some important scenes in my WIP.
The best news is that I had a wide range of deeply emotional experiences that will help me write with a deeper understanding of what my characters feel.

Could I, with critiques and revisions, eventually "get there"? Sure. But by paying attention and allowing myself to fully explore my emotions on my vacation, I am better prepared to show the similar feelings of my characters.

First, I drove many hours to get to Yosemite Valley. Getting out of the car, my body probably looked like a cowboy who'd been on the trail for days. The next day, with no intention of hiking (read: no boots, no poles), I ended up hiking Vernal Falls. Four miles in, then four miles out.

The last steps to the top. So terrified!I'd hiked this trail with my dad and older sister when I was six. Wow, have times changed. If I thought it took forever to get to the bridge to see the falls then, (I don't remember it like that) it was an eternity last week. And all the way I was going up, I knew I'd have to come down. My terror rose. Wet. Slippery. Steep. My dad wasn't there to catch me if I fell.

My WIP character is a young woman who leaves her planet for an education. She knows it will take three weeks, in a battleship, to arrive at the university. I had her engaged in various shipboard activities. What I didn't know (before my experiences) was how long it seems to her. She is not prepared for shipboard routine and everything-the food, the abbreviated language, the speed, and the gruffness of the ship personnel-is different from her home planet.

You know how everyone says, "Write what you know"? Well, I don't know about life onboard a galactic battlecruiser, but I do know about sliding between rock walls with other (speedier) people trying to go around me. Frustration with my fear and inability to move like the more seasoned hikers is something I can write about. In my character's POV.

Before the trip: Alarm bells ringing and lights flashing, Talia moved to the side of the crowded corridor. Uniformed bodies passed her inconvenient mass with little loss of speed, rushing to battle stations. She had no battle station, no training, no skill. Heck, she didn't know if this was a drill or if hugging the cold metal wall would be the last act  of her short life.

After the trip: Talia's ears registered the initial warning. A thready siren spiraled its wail over her head, followed by pounding of what sounded like thousands of military boots. Her back met the cold metal of the bulkhead. Uniformed bodies sprinted past her to battle stations. She spread her arms and flattened her palms against the plazsteel in an effort to give ship personnel more room.

Someone tramped on her foot then cursed. Heck with renegade missiles, she might die right here from the stampede of rushing bodies. Air gushed into lungs that had locked up tight. She wanted to drop to her knees and pray this was merely a drill. Instead, she hugged the corridor wall, inching her way to the safety of her rack. She may have no battle station and no skill, but she was not going to die in a narrow corridor surrounded by cold metal walls.

Exchange those steel bulkheads for sheer granite, the siren for thousands of gallons of water pounding over a cliff, add slippery footing from the mist off the falls and, yes, someone stepped on my foot and cussed me out! I am Talia. frozen in fear, afraid to move for what seemed like long, dragged-out hours. Crowded, narrow trail. Yep, I just wanted to be back in my bed.

Leaving Sequoia Nat'l ParkGive your writing juice. If we pay attention to our feelings, the whole range of our feelings, we are better prepared to show our characters' emotions, not just tell our readers what we want them to feel. Which doesn't work, anyway.

So pay attention to your thoughts and feelings this summer. They are your own private gold mine for your characters. When those scared spitless moments you lived through make it into your WIP this summer, it will be just between us. Our secret. No one else needs to know why your characters leap off the page with emotion. Your emotion.

No matter your genre, humans are human, and we feel--sometimes very deeply. Show those emotions and your readers will thank you. And come back for more.

If you want a challenge, here's one: Take a paragraph from something you wrote last week. Add an emotion that you felt this week, showing how that emotion affected you, via what is happening to your character.

Have you ever used your characters to work through a situation that was unresolved in your life? Were you able to show the range of your emotions, or did you get "stuck"? (It's okay for your characters to get stuck!)

About Fae:

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight, and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.

23 comments on “Use Your Summer Activities to Deepen Your Character's POV (and more!)”

  1. Such a smart post, Fae, and I love your examples!

    Great reminder, too. I'm writing a biker-chick road trip book, and in less than three weeks, I'm leaving on a motorcycle vacation to Colorado!

    RESEARCH! (yeah, right).

    1. Thanks, Laura. You know I love writing scenes about my latest adventures!

  2. And I just got back from a week on a working cattle ranch. I know exactly what you're talking about. I'd done research, passed my work by 'experts' but until you sit in the saddle for hours and get out amongst the cows, you don't have the same insight.

    1. Once you live it, you can really share the experience with your readers. (Hope you're walking fine now, Terry!)

  3. Fae, this is a terrific post with some stellar insights. I often do research on behalf of my characters. The adventures have ranged from trekking in Nepal to learning how to throw pots on a wheel. My characters can often do things better than I can, but a lot of the physical sensations and emotions transfer from my real life experiences to what I write. It's really true that you need to explore the world in order to write about it--even if you do it all in your own neighborhood.

  4. Great post! I suffer from acrophobia...big time. But recently I stopped at a supermarket grand opening and they were offering rides in a tethered hot air balloon. As frightened as I was, the writer in me couldn't pass up the opportunity. It was scary but exhilarating at the same time...I even managed to open my eyes to snap some photos with my phone because I knew my family would never believe me. I haven't used those exact feelings yet but they will be there when I need them. 🙂

    1. Good for you, Carrie! You will be able to show your characters skating on the edge of their comfort zones. Yeah!

  5. Thank you!! I finally understand.....in order to SHOW rather than TELL, I must BECOME rather than OBSERVE. Your article was very enlightening and I appreciate you exposing this truth to me.

    1. I wrestle with the whole show/tell thing, but the words you just used -- become/observe -- turned on another lightbulb for me. Thanks!

    2. I'm glad it was helpful. I'm revising three (3!) books, so I am really honing in on showing rather than telling.

  6. I love getting out there and really immersing in the experience. It's why I can't write or watch horror and such. That stuff scares the crapola out of me.

  7. Fae, thank you! I'm sprinting the next few days on my WIP and this post is VERY helpful!

  8. Excellent post, Fae! Not only does it illustrate how you improved a character, it shows that writers are always, always working. Everything is grist for the mill. I sprained a knee bodyboarding and had to drag myself out of the water against the undertow. That little bit has turned up more than once. And congrats on the hike. That's a major achievement!

  9. Thanks, James. I remember eating sand more than once in my surfing days in your city! The worst time I came out crying My boyfriend made me go right back in. And I didn't break up with him! (I do hate the undertow.) There is going to be a shopping scene in the new book. Maybe Nancy will help me with that research!

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