Writing Blog: Beginning Text Using Character Traits
Our task as writers is to share enough character traits in the first page or two to grab and hold the reader. So what traits will do that? How do writers decide what works?
It’s a deep dark secret; one even the writer often doesn’t know how to share until the story has gotten underway. That means writers often return to the first pages after they’ve written a chapter or two to show us the character in action. (First chapters are frequently tossed out once the story is underway because we need to start as close to the action as possible and many first chapters circle without pulling readers into the heart of the problem.) When I began 84 Ribbons is was a total novice. I started w-a-y too early in Marta’s story. As result, I threw out an embarrassing 150 pages of text! Yep, 150 pages.
What did I learn from those semi-wasted pages? First, to start closer to the action that mattered (her audition). I also learned to select traits for my character (Marta) that set her apart from other story characters in other books (pacing, waiting for her audition, playing with her leotard elastic and her hair). I used those traits several times as she stepped into situations where she was nervous to show her reactions rather than to tell the reader she was nervous. I think that worked. Also, I didn’t spend a lot of time describing her; instead I let her size and basic physical traits unfold over the first couple of chapters as she met other characters in the story. I also feel that worked.
Here’s a practice task for you: write a description of a major story character without using the everyday traits. See if you can place the character in motion where he/she is using actions that also give us a sneak peek into the character’s distinct traits. Send them along to me. I’d like to see how you sidestep a more traditional approach.