Tag Archives: Audience

Pro-Tip: Characterization

6 Oct

How do you talk to your friends? To your family? Bosses and coworkers?

For every person and situation, there is a way we present ourselves. Why should this be any different for each of your characters? It shouldn’t.

I remember when teachers used to say, “Don’t start a sentence with ‘because,’” or “You can’t use contractions in formal or serious writing.” And they had lots of rules about slang. To a point, those rules were useful. In the context of their classrooms, they were golden. Following such laws ensured decent grades. After all, breaking a rule so explicitly stated would render the teacher unable to take you seriously beyond that point.

But now, it’s time to forget it. It’s rubbish. Rules like that have a place in the classrooms of the teachers who value them and little place else. Try writing a realistic character without breaking them. It’s nearly impossible if you want that character to sound like someone you could really meet. And that’s the key—creating characters that we see ourselves and others in, even when the character isn’t a human. Characters are textual embodiments of our human experience. Even a talking dog on Mars will be based on the actions and emotions we know because it’s impossible to invent an emotion or characteristic fully new and alien. It may seem different but, somewhere at its core, every new creation of fiction is rooted in the human experience. If characters aren’t experiencing and acting organically as you or I would, then what are they? Caricatures of prescriptive rules, rules which tell us how language ought to be but do not reflect how language is actually used.

Example: “Tom, it is late. I find we will miss the movie if we do not leave now. Are we not going to the movies after all?”

“No, Summer, we are not. I have to complete this project for chemistry lab. It is due tomorrow, and I neglected to begin work earlier. I am very sorry.”

Ok, so there’s nothing technically wrong with that exchange between Summer and her boyfriend, Tom. The scene is clear. But how forced did that feel? If you were Summer would you talk like that? If you were Tom? Maybe if this was an exchange between Data and a Vulcan… otherwise, I doubt it. Plus, would a Vulcan actually forget to do his homework? I digress.

Many readers play the scenes of a novel like a movie in their minds. Less visual learners may not, but chances are, they at least listen to the soundtrack of the words. Reading a conversation like the example is as awkward feeling as it would be to watch that scene play out in real life. It doesn’t flow. It sounds like a business exchange between strangers, not a dispute between partners, lovers. The formality slows the natural rhythm of reading. It gets in the way. In more colloquial speech, the words run together. They sound in a reader’s head as they would out of the reader’s mouth. Smooth, easy, and with more personality.

When writing, make sure you’re not stalling the tension and momentum of your scenes by being overly formal. Fiction novels aren’t research papers, agent queries, resumes, or instruction manuals. Make your characters talk like real people.

Since you’ve thrown out all of those rules I mentioned earlier, replace them with this: Each character must have a unique and realistic voice that reflects personality. All quirks will at that point appear purposeful because they will be unique to the character.

Perhaps one character really DOES talk that way in the novel. The choice to leave the dialogue formal, or fully informal, at all times, or even riddled with slang or nonsense words would be obviously purposeful to your readers because no one else would be quite the same. The way we talk is a part of our personality, and it is no different for the characters you create.

Keeping that in mind, let’s try the example again.

“Tom, aren’t we going to the movies? We’ll be late.”

“No, Summer. I’ve got this project for chem that’s due tomorrow. I forgot all about it. Sorry.”

OR

“Tom, we’re not going to the movies, are we?”

“Nope. I just remember I have a chemistry project due in the morning.”

“You promised.”

“I’m sorry.”

“See, you always do this. You plan all this great stuff and then you’re all, ‘Oh, well, I gotta do this instead.’”

“I don’t sound like that.”

OR

“You ready to go, Tom? We need to leave now.”

“I’m doing this chem lab. I can’t stop in the middle of it.”

“Really? You knew we were going out at 4. You saw me getting ready. Why did you start the project if you knew you couldn’t stop until the end? Why didn’t you say something an hour ago?”

See how a simple exchange can escalate if you let the language develop to who the characters are individually and what their situation is as a whole? With additional characterization and narration, the reader may already know or soon learn that these two always bicker, that she’s a little spoiled, but that her irritation is justified due to his aloof attitude and transient interests, or maybe it’s a first fight and the reader has to continue to find out if their relationship can withstand it. With more surrounding description, the reader should be able to say these sentences in the voices set up for each character—the reader’s own variation of what the author has led her to imagine.

The takeaway here is, within reasonable consideration of appropriateness to your target audience, abandon all rules that don’t suit the reality of a character or scene. If your character uses contractions in speech or starts sentences with “because,” let him. If the scene requires slang, go for it. If your protagonist only curses when surprised because she hates to be surprised, let it fly, but only in the proper scenarios. Stay true to the character. All of them should talk in the text like they would talk to you in real life.

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico,

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

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Need Publicity? Write a Press Release

22 Sep

Here is a fantastic resource for writing press releases in order to publicize your book. I generally like to give my own take on writing advice, but this step-by-step instruction by Audrey Owen is too good to pass up.

Thank you!!

21 Aug

I’ve reached 100 likes and it’s all because of you guys! THANK YOU from the bottom of my red-ink-filled heart!

Love and happy writing!

Amanda Marsico
Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Self-Editing Tip #3: Redundancy, Reiteration, Repetition

5 Jul

Redundancy, Reiteration, and Repetition—there’s a critical difference between making sure your message is purposefully apparent in every facet of your work (reiteration) and restating that message verbatim at every opportunity until it gets in the reader’s way or insults their intelligence (redundancy).

Whether you write in a technical capacity like web content and print materials (think client-targeted brochures, newsletters, mailers, etc.) or creatively for pleasure, reiteration is important. You want your readers to know what you’re about. Keep like items or topics together to avoid redundant menu labeling, but feel free to creatively reiterate important info when necessary.

Consider this situation:

You are the writer for your company’s website. There are ten tabs on the site menu, each leading to different groups of information. All of that information still relates back to the same central theme, idea, product, whatever. As the writer, you nod toward that unifying topic on each page in some way. This is good. After all, what if page seven of ten is the only page a particular client visits? What if page four of ten is the one that shows up in a Google search? The customer may look at that page only when coming to your site. Prepare for the possibility and probability that any individual page on your site is the only page your reader sees. Are they going to know what your company is all about?

However, and I cannot stress this enough, copying your mission statement, slogan, company motto, sales pitch, etc. verbatim on each page is not the way to make sure that reader gets the message. Remember how I said you must consider that they may only see one out of ten pages? They might also see all ten. So if you’ve been redundant instead of informative, find a way to rephrase that enables you to stay true to your purpose without insulting your reader’s intelligence.

Another effective way to make sure your reader gets the whole message is to encourage your audience to take a look at the rest of your site (or any other publication). Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to. Every writer must decide for herself what those incentives, motivations, and exciting features will be. For some, it might be giveaways and contests. For others, it might simply be good-natured or humorous instruction to do so. Consider your niche and your audience when deciding. Not every method will work for every reader or writer. Also, give readers easy navigation to those additional pages; i.e. Back to Top buttons, Home Page link on every page, sentences with links to other pages written in.

Let’s diverge, now. Did you notice what I did up there? “Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to.” That’s neither redundancy, nor reiteration. That is repetition. In this instance, it is also an example of isocolon—the repetition of entire grammatical structures within a sentence. You can reuse entire grammatical structures consecutively in order to create emphasis on an idea. This is a great technique for all writing. If you take the time to say something more than once in the same sentence or paragraph, most readers will realize it is something important.

Just remember, these three concepts are not the same as summarizing. For long academic or technical documents in which a final culmination of ideas is necessary for reader understanding, restating the message in a condensed way is almost always an appropriate means of wrapping up.

For more tips on web content, technical writing, and editing for business documents, check out Mike Markel’s book Technical Communication 9th edition or newer.

Self-Editing Tip #1: Read With Fresh Eyes

1 Jul

The Basics–proofread, revise, and edit from your audience’s point of view, not your own. You know what you mean and what your intentions are. A new reader may not. Clarity is everything.

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