Her consistent mispronunciation of “rendezvous” did not help at all.
Killers need to kill. It’s surprising how many writers ignore this very specific and important piece of the ones they claim are killers, heartless or not. Sometimes, there’s a difference between the character we describe in the text and the actions the character takes. An author can tell me over and over that a character is a deadly and dangerous person who strikes ruthlessly without mercy, but if they don’t behave that way in the actual story then I’m not going to buy it.
Show versus tell: the difference between who the author says the character is and the actions the character takes in the story. Especially if the actions counteract the description. Now, you do have characters who lie, characters who misrepresent themselves, characters who say one thing and do another, but these are not the characters we’re talking about. This is about ensuring that you, the author, know the character you are writing. Unless you’re hiding their habits, let us glimpse the worst they’re capable of.
Monster. I could tell Jackson I was a monster, but he wouldn’t believe me. He saw a strawberry blonde, five feet eleven inches. A waitress, a Pilates nut, not a murderer. The nasty scar across my slim waist that I’d earned when I was ten? He thought I’d gotten it from a mugging at twenty one. Just as a natural layer of womanly fat hid away years of physical conditioning, I hid myself behind long hair, perky makeup, and a closet full of costumes bought from Macy’s and Forever 21. To him, I was Grace Johnson. The woman who cuddled beside him in bed, the woman who hogged the sheets, who screamed during horror movie jump scares, the woman who forgot to change the toilet paper, who baked cookies every Saturday morning, the woman who sometimes wore the same underwear three days in a row. The woman he loved.
No, I thought as I studied his eyes. Even with a useless arm hanging at my side, elbow crushed; my nose smashed, blood coursing down from the open gash in my forehead, a bullet wound in my shoulder, Sixteen’s gun in my hand, the dining room table shattered, and his grandmother’s China scattered across the floor. He’d never believe Grace Johnson was a lie. Not until I showed him, possibly not even then. Not for many more years to come. Probably, I caught my mental shrug, if he lives.
“Grace,” Jackson said. “Please…” The phone clattered the floor, his blue eyes wide, color draining from his lips. “This isn’t you.”
Gaze locking his, I levered Sixteen’s pistol at her knee.
“Don’t,” she whispered. “Morrison will take you in, he’ll fix this.” Her voice cracked, almost a sob. For us, a destroyed limb was a death sentence. Once, we swore we’d die together. Now, she can mean it. “Thirteen, if you run then there’s no going back.”
My upper lip curled. “You don’t know me.” I had no idea which one I was talking to. “You never did.”
My finger squeezed the trigger.
Sixteen grunted, blood slipping down her lip. In the doorway, Jackson screamed.
Do it and mean it. Let it be part of their character development, regardless of if which way you intend to go. In the above example, there’s a dichotomy present between the character of Thirteen and her cover Grace Johnson. There’s some question, even for the character, about which of them they are. It sets up a beginning of growth for the character as she runs, but it also fails to answer what will be the central question in the story: who am I? Which way will I jump?
If Thirteen doesn’t kill Sixteen, if the scene answers the question at the beginning then why would you need to read the story?
Below the cut, we’ll talk about some ways to show their struggles.
- How does your character handle finances? Are they a big spender or a careful saver?
- Has your character ever gotten in trouble with the law? If so, what for? Does this ever come back to affect them?
- Is your character particularly interested in a certain historical period? If so, what about it appeals to them?
- What are your character’s political beliefs? If your character is from a fictional world, are there political parties or groups that share these beliefs?
- If your character is from a world where magic is real/common, what would they do if they suddenly ended up in a non-magical world? Or if they just lost their powers?
- How many past sexual partners has your character had, if any? How do they feel about one night stands/hookups/other “promiscuous” sex? Is that something they ever have/would engage in?
- How “self-aware” is your character within the story (i.e. a fantasy story where they find out they’re the chosen one and call it cliche, or a sci-fi story where they compare their life to Star Wars)?
- If your character is the narrator of the story, are they a reliable narrator? Or do they often omit/embellish things to swing the reader’s opinion a certain way?
- Has your character ever traveled outside the country if their birth? If so, what for? And if not, do they ever want to?
- Would your character ever put themselves in danger to help a complete stranger? If so, how bad would a situation have to be for your character not to help someone?
- Just for Fun: Your character hits the jackpot lottery and is suddenly a millionaire. What’s their first purchase?
Scenes make up the entire structure of your novel, so it’s important to know how to do this well. Very often, a new scene is identified by the start of a new chapter, but it can also be a few paragraphs/pages long. Identifying a scene is the first step.
Here is the technical definition: A scene is a unit of story that takes place at a specific location and time. If those change, you have a new scene. Your story will be illogical is it has no semblance of scene or scene changes, so this is very important.
It helps to think of each scene as its own story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Each scene needs to be necessary and advance the plot in some way, just like every other detail of your writing. However, each scene plays into the bigger story of your novel. They all build on each other.
Here are a few tips to improve the way you write scenes and communicate with your audience:
Cut out unnecessary information.
Your writing will improve drastically if you can figure out the point of each scene. What are you trying to say? What are you revealing about your characters? Each scene should add to the overall story and give us a sense of where our characters are going. Any scene that doesn’t do this should be cut. This helps keep your novel flowing and will prevent your writing from getting boring.
Goal, conflict, and distaster/resolution.
This is pretty standard formula for crafting a strong scene. What goal is your character trying to accomplish? What is the conflict and what stands in their way? What happens as a result of their actions? How will they resolve this problem? Obviously not every scene will have a resolution, but the disaster should lead into the next scene. Think about these things when you’re constructing your novel. If a scene doesn’t seem to have a point, cut it. If you feel like your novel is dragging, keep a look out for scenes like this.
Don’t prematurely cut to a new scene.
Your scenes need to flow, so if you’re constantly cutting to new scenes your novel will feel disjointed. For example, if a character dies you can’t just cut to new action without any of the characters dealing with it. Don’t go from place to place or time to time without developing the story properly or using transitions. Let us stay with a scene until it leads to something else that drives the story forward. Writing up an outline will help with this.