Crafting Effective Characters Part 1

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.

-Charles W. Eliot (1834 - 1926)

Being a writer is about all kinds of things -- on a mechanical level, it’s about rules about subject/verb agreement, punctuation, grammar, spelling, while on a not-so-mechanical level it’s to do with the archetypes and patterns which you actually absorb as a reader all the time but to which you perhaps don’t assign much conscious importance. You’ve been able to understand the secret language of fiction even while perhaps not being as able to communicate using it.

Words are the key, of course, to unlocking what you have flowing through your inner mind, but, just like the language you use at word level will captivate your reader or not, it is the models, the guides, moulds, blueprints, and patterns which will attract or repel your reader through the whole work. And that’s the foundation upon which great masterpieces are built, believe it or not.

However, even if you really feel what you’re writing, effectively capture it using exactly the right words, and then strive to follow the guide almost exactly, you can miss the mark in creating emotions within your readers.

So how do you do get an emotional commitment from your readers?

The first thing is NOT to do what you’re probably (if you’re like hundreds of thousands of other writers) tempted to do: get over-emotional with your language and style. Here’s a tip:

The best way of creating an emotional effect is to avoid emotionalism.

Ernest Hemingway was a master at this —his novels are apparently so dry, so free of outward emotional entanglement or linguistic emotional techniques, yet he is hailed as a major influence on writing in the twentieth century because his writing ends up conveying such powerful feelings.

In this excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea, the case is just plainly stated:

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert. Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

Approximately 14% of the words in this passage are adjectives, and even they are straightforwardly presented: only two