The Making of a Hero — Part 4

Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description

In the last post I wrote, “Heroes are not wimps, nor indecisive, and usually not overly inner-reflective.” Yet, people are all these things and more, so why shouldn’t the characters exhibit these traits?

Your hero (like real people) can and should have doubts, harbor prejudices, and even be a little self-absorbed . . . in their thoughts.

While the hero acts and speaks in ways demonstrating confident forward movement, inside their head they can be a tangled mess.

The contrast between “thoughts” and “actions” help illustrate a complex character, a person at odds with themselves, one rattled by internal conflict.

Conflict is critical within the fiction framework, and a superb way to show a character’s unsettled mental state is within the natural ebb and flow of confidence.

A person with internal fear and doubts about their abilities, the chance of success, or even a reason to continue, becomes a hero when they push aside debilitating emotions and battles to right a wrong, especially when one of the battles is against their very nature.

In my novel, The Returning, a disheartened and disillusioned immortal yearns to (finally) die the last time and sleep with the Fathers. The challenge was to show his inner struggle of having no purpose (that he recognizes), but still give him a strong constitution—the “hero touch.”

In the example below, the protagonist has died while a young soldier, and has just now realized he has “returned” to the body of a Prince.
——————-
Inhabiting a Prince, whose responsibility and future hinges on ruling an entire country. He wanted to run, to hide, to live this life—like most lives before—in seclusion, with the sole hope of dying one last time and leaving the emptiness of his pointless existence once and forever. Let me have rest.

He clenched his fists and forced his concentration outward. Thoughts shifted to what he must do to survive, what he had always done.
——————–
Inner thoughts are italicized. Even though much of the first paragraph in the example describes the character’s thoughts and feelings, I decided to only italicize the first and last sentence; I did this to make it easier for the reader. Reading an entire italicized paragraph can be tedious, and as shown, unnecessary—the reader understands the character is thinking “He wanted to run and hide . . . pointless existence once and forever.”

Although the story line is in third person past tense (He wanted to run . . .), the italicized thoughts are in first person, present. Using this altered viewpoint pulls the reader into the immediacy of the situation and the character, without the usual viewpoint-verb tense-switch distraction.

Another example of using italics to introduce the thought process, and how the “regular” type face that follows enhances the main character’s disposition:

What the hell am I doing? He shouldn’t have entered the bar, or even gotten out of his car, but knew it was too late now–Jared had spotted him.

Working on a character’s psyche can be great fun, and used intermittently, enhances the reader’s understanding of the “person” you created.

A warning: if the character’s “soul-searching” is explored too often or constitutes the same questions, your hero will (in the reader’s mind) turn into a brooding puddle of emotions whose actions will be derailed by the inner “poor me” syndrome, and nobody cares about heroes feeling sorry for themselves.

Make your hero strong, but vulnerable, and you are well on your way to making a character readers will identify with and cheer.

See you on the Next Page,

Rick

Don’t miss the next post. Sign up to follow Knights of Writ — Fiction Musings, and receive all future posts in your email. As always, comments are encouraged and highly appreciated.

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The Making of a Hero — Part 3

Words Express Clearer Than Thoughts

“Shut up and sit down.”
“Please be quiet and find your seats.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will kindly take your places. Quietly, please.”

Three distinctly different people spoke the words in the examples, and each addressed a unique audience. In the first, perhaps a drill sergeant or caustic CEO; the second might be a high school teacher cajoling his students; the third sounds like a preacher getting ready to start a round of church Bingo.

People speak differently given their personality, background, and situation. This is especially true of your hero.

Heroes are not wimps, nor indecisive, and usually not overly introspective: their yea is yea, their nay is nay—wishy-washy does not suit a hero. Heroes do not whine about their lot in life, or bemoan that things are unfair—their speech reflects this attitude.

When confronted, your protagonist does not respond apologetically with, “But, gee, Captain, I only led the men over the west ridge because I thought it was a better choice.” Instead, a hero says, “Captain, I led the men the best way.”

Notice the confrontation in the example—dialogue is best served with a side of tension, or at the least, a dollop of disagreement.

Conflict is a required ingredient in fiction, and where better to demonstrate than people’s conversations?

The way people speak and the words they use define them, and it’s important to be aware of the subtle differences when giving your characters a voice.

“I seen Billy at the car wash,” would not be uttered by an educated person (unless in mocking), nor would a person who did not finish sixth grade say, “It’s unfathomable to consider global warming untrue when you view the collected data,” (unless they are self-taught and you’ve previously shown this trait, as in the Matt Damon film, Good Will Hunting).

In the same way a King will be authoritative, a Priest may be demur, a commoner tentative when addressing one above their status. The words each say (and the way they say them) demonstrate their state of mind and their societal position.

Different people may say the exact same words, but their emphasis will alter, and thereby, better describe them and their peculiar views.

Italics can illustrate the differences. Read the following examples aloud with emphasis on the italicized word (and bold to make it easier to see).

What have you done?
What have you done?
What have you done?

Why are you going there?
Why are you going there?
Why are you going there?

Each asks the same question with a subtle difference, the italicized word highlighting the importance of the character’s concern, thus a peek deeper into their personality.

Contractions

Nowadays most people speak using contractions: I’m going to the store, we’re going to the movies, I’ll stay home with the kids. This was not always so. Historical novels seldom use contractions in speech.

I have a character (an educated scribe) that never uses a contraction, which gives him a more formal characterization. Other characters use contractions sometimes, some at every opportunity, each depending on the character illustrated and the scene circumstances. By the scribe not using a contraction—even when appropriate or even preferable—spotlights a portion of his personality.

Dialogue + Action = Deeper Characterization

Dialogue interspersed with an action beat speaks volumes about a character and their mood.

Jack crushed the beer can with one hand and tossed it aside. “I told you not to come back here.”

“But, why?” Julie took one step back, clutching her handbag, and remembered she had left the gun in the nightstand.

“I think you better tell me what happened,” Mike said, his hand reaching across the table like a snake coiling to strike.

“I thought you’d think that,” he said, laughing, “and so did ma.”

Clear and believable dialogue is essential to giving your characters life and showing the nuances that make David different than Frank.

If you find your characters sounding the same, go back to your Character Sketch and tweak something about their upbringing, world view, or education: each character needs to be unique, and most importantly, true to themselves.

Next Post: The Making of a Hero — Part Four: Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description

See you on the next page,

Rick

Don’t miss the next post. Sign up to follow Knights of Writ — Fiction Musings, and receive all future posts in your email. As always, comments are encouraged and highly appreciated.