Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Today I’m just going to highlight a few techniques I love finding in fiction.
Beats— This is a technique the author uses to seamlessly substitute an action that identifies the character in place of the tired old he-said, she-said. Example: Instead of “I’m not cold,” Jane said, the beat would clue the reader in with “I’m not cold.” Jane pulled her jacket up tight around her neck. That beat tells us much more than the words, doesn’t it?
Brilliant character habits— This is the reason I decided to write this blog today. I was reading over some sample chapters for a new Kathleen Y’Barbo book and she had a lovable, but definitely blond, first person point of view character who would interrupt her telling of the current story and give a telling piece of backstory. When she finished abruptly, and was ready to switch back to the present, the character would always say, “But I digress.” It was a positively genius technique because, as you know, “experts” will tell you to leave out backstory. But in the hands of a fine writer who knows what she is doing, it is nothing short of delightful. Now, of course, none of you can use that particular one because that belongs to Kathleen’s character. Your job is to break the rules if you must but only when executed by a character we want to forgive.
Non-verbal character habits— this technique can be used if you set it up early and the reader understands what it represents. In my very first book my sole POV character was a profoundly blind ten-year-old girl. (Nobody told me a beginner should never attempt something like that.) It meant I could have no visual clues in the entire book. Her little brother was a key part of the plot. He was in trouble but couldn’t tell her, since he counted on her not being able to see him. In the beginning of the book, however, she worried over the state of his well worn boots. They’d lost several nails so that the sole flapped when he walked. She heard and identified every step he took. All we had to “hear” in the book was that faint flapping sound and my young readers knew who was nearby. In another of my books Harriet Tubman’s mother, Old Rit, had a nervous tic of rubbing her work-roughened thumb against the forefinger. I used that as foreshadowing. If the young Harriet walked in the door and heard that scritch-scritch-scritch sound she immediately knew, something bad was about to happen.
Trust your readers— my readers were 8 – 11 year old girls and yet I knew I only had to tell them something one time and they’d get it and apply it again and again. Like Old Rit’s scritching. Sometimes I’ve read a story where it feels like the author is standing over my shoulder, saying, “Get it? Get it?” Yeah. I got it the first twelve times you said that.
That’s just a good start for you. Now it’s your turn. What techniques would you like to suggest for some of your favorite (or not so favorite) novelists?