Friday, November 4, 2011

The Missing Link: What's Missing in Your Characters

Have you ever, while revising a scene, said, there's something missing here? Rather than ignore the question, especially if you fear the response, ponder your query. The answer can deepen your scene, characters and story.

While editing an early chapter in a novel, I felt something was missing. In this case, a new character appeared at the start of the chapter without preamble and with barely a mention in the chapter before. The character was vivid and fairly well-defined, but the context was missing. Without that, the interplay between him and his daughter-in-law was one-dimensional.
Context enlivens characters

In this instance, the solution was to revise the start of the chapter to create a more concrete setting, where his daughter-in-law and son are already "on stage." Starting the chapter with a three-person dynamic provided the opportunity for more interplay among the characters, and a better sense of the father-in-law. Since he's new to the scene, we see him in sharper relief.

Tip: Select a scene that's given you the nagging sense that something's missing. In a quiet place, or even a noisy one that's not your usual writing habitat or home, reread the scene and mark the point(s) where something feels off. Ponder what that might be. Don't be afraid to give yourself time to confront the missing link. Sometimes fear keeps us from seeing what's right in front of us.

Insight: Sometimes the missing link is backstory. We'll cover that in the next post.

Resource: If you're looking for a master storyteller who's equally masterful at creating characters, visit Dennis Lehane

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