By Eris Marriott
For a writer, finding balance between the things that make our mood swings take flight in a proverbial breeze and the step-by-step underpinnings of our work is tough. Too much emotion puts us on the verge of melodrama and too much logic makes a book sound more like a “how-to” manual than an enjoyable piece of literature. (However, if you’re writing a ‘how-to’ manual, perhaps this doesn’t apply to you. Even still, not sounding at a level of appeal to your audience can affect the reception of your ‘how to’ manual as well. So you’re not entirely off the hook.
Some people argue that experience helps an author capture the framework of what they’re writing. In a sense, I agree. However, I cannot experience what my main characters have experienced because 1) the MC in my sister series is a Reaper who collects souls and travels time and 2) my other MC is dying and will die of lung cancer (not major spoilers, they’re accepted early on in both plots—there’s more to my circus than just the monkeys). So, if I can’t die and I can’t collect souls, how on Earth do I find the ability to generate something comparable to what a person would actually feel?
First off, there’s some good news. If you don’t know, your reader probably doesn’t either. However, much like you, they do know what doesn’t work. When a character just keeps chatting after someone’s died, there might be some question as to whether or not being aloof to such a thing would make sense to that character. Do they display sociopathic tendencies (I wouldn’t label them as such in a post as my mother has a degree in psychology and might kill me for diagnosing without more information; having information to remove your insensitivity is another key point that I’ll mention now but leave for later) or is the death just not framed properly in relation to the character for them to give more than a “meh” to the corpse on the floor.
On the other hand, having someone fling themselves into hysterics and going on and on about it might seem out of place, too. So, you have to ask yourself: what would I do? More importantly: what would your character do? And once you’ve asked yourself that, show the reader what you would do so that your response explains itself. Don’t just tell. “Show and don’t tell” is one of the most important things you can do as a writer. I’ve never shape-shifted into a wolf, but my character does (a Dire wolf to be exact) and for him, that’s a natural occurrence. Now, do I get the feeling of natural shift completely right? Well, it’s an in the works first draft, so I’ll be the first to admit: no. I still have a long way to go to get it right: self-edits and then professional.
But I can say this: my character doesn’t say much about how odd it is except for in relation to other shifters like him and, to him, he’s accepted it as a part of his reality. I’ve laid the groundwork of the past to keep you guessing, indicating he wasn’t always like that, but it’s a part of his personality to just accept things and move on throughout the rest of the novel (no matter how strange) and that’s what he does when he shifts. He does; he does not stop to think until it’s over. I know this because it stemmed from a personal option on how to respond. His opposite, the co-MC, reacts with caution, suspicion and disbelief without corroboration from him. She is left emotionally and mentally scarred from her first discovery of her powers. Two separate responses, that I came up with, are established in the framework of the novel so later actions don’t have to be justified so much more than painted into the blended concoction you’ve already made.
Now, this is a lot of self-analogy here and, realistically, I can never get it right because “right” varies by author and I still have a lot to learn on this, just as experts in the field do. Writing is a process of constantly growing. But I can say: this is what has worked so far for me. Establishing narratives and frameworks unique to each character to justify their actions, while putting in my own apprehensions of believability into the scene, I can create something (I hope) that is as realistic as can be in a world where time is something that can be bent and 18-year-old high school grads can work for the Grim Reaper.
For you, the reader (and writer), I daresay the answer for what works for you is based on your own perception and the editing process to come. But, most of all, don’t be afraid to get it wrong. I know I have, despite my examples. And that’s okay: I’m going to edit it to make sure it’s streamlined. And so will you. But, often, getting it wrong is what makes the difference between getting it right someday or knocking it out of the park.
Learn more about Eris-
Tiffany Heiser is the owner of Tiffany Heiser Graphics & Fyre and Brimestone Publishing. She is a self-taught graphic artist, an author, publisher, & a loving mom.