by Peggy Bechko
Suck ‘em in. Don’t let go of their eyeballs – whether they be script reader, editor or reader, that’s your goal as a writer. And I know you’ve all experienced it yourselves. That film that’s fantastic, the book that draws you in until you forget where you are. Some writers have a native ability to paint those characters and backgrounds in such a way that they feel real.
So how do they do that? How can the rest of us writers do the same?
One way is to add realism.
And, a way to do that is to get really involved with your characters; wrapped up in their psychology. Get that movie going in your head and project yourself into whatever situation you’ve created for your character. It seems simple, but it isn’t because you have got to go deep.
You really need to find that quiet place or maybe take a long walk in a distraction-free zone. You may even want to physically re-enact some of the story scenes with conflict to get in touch with what the characters might actually be feeling.
If mental alone works for you, great. Examine the emotions and consider the physical reactions. If someone is getting beaten up, they’re in pain, could be gasping, maybe yelling. They could also be fearful, furious, contemplating revenge or whatever else the scene you’ve created might contain.
Discern what emotions, physical feelings, etc. actually apply to your characters and press them into your writing. Don’t disconnect and write like a god observing; instead, dive in and write from the inside out. Feel everything even as your characters do. Do this right, feel yourself, and your readers will feel along with you. Empathy is a major realism adder!
And don’t stop there. Human beings are complicated.
Your scenes aren’t simply going to be about someone getting beaten up, or climbing a mountain, or finding romance. The inner workings are very important. People have motivations, weaknesses of various varieties, flaws, knee-jerk reactions.
Think about it. If your character has a fear of flying how will that affect everything else in the story? If a character faces problems with a defense mechanism of denial then that’s a part of the character’s inner workings and will affect every decision he or she makes.
Those flaws or quirks or whatever we want to label them make characters even more interesting for readers to identify with. The script reader can identify. The novel reader is immersed because he or she can identify with the character’s flaw.
The list goes on. Your characters swim in a lake of psychoses, phobias, syndromes, behaviors, childhood baggage, failed relationships and more. People are colorful, horrifying, sweet, timid, and a myriad of other things. Cash in on it, don’t hide from it and leave your reader out in the cold.
Another way to add realism is obvious – research. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, you’re going to research. When I wrote my novel Cloud Dancer I was immersed in the history of the Southwest in the 1600’s. When I wrote the script The Three Piggs I buried myself in research on werewolves and vampires and their origins intending that research to offer different branches on the already well-explored paranormal tree.
When you set yourself to researching the way people dress, the languages they speak, the setting they live in, the social customs, occupations and other details for a story it gives the story a feeling of real. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, dropping in bits of research that are solid is a great way to bring the whole thing to life.
Visit places if you can (this probably won’t work for a story set on Mars…yet). For that you’ll need to research all that’s known about Mars and maybe visit a planetarium. Otherwise going there can help tremendously. When I wrote western adventure long, long ago, I vacationed in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. I took pictures everywhere (with a film camera) and created scenes using markers from those photos.
If that’s not in the cards for you there are travel books, guides, and don’t forget YouTube where you can find info on almost any place on the planet. Historical societies have a lot to offer as well. Maybe tours and if that won’t work, visit websites. It’s not hard to dig in these days with the web and, yes, libraries in full throttle.
Collect photos as you go for inspiration and detail. Check your sources. Be accurate.
Plainly the writer can add much more color and texture to a story with detailed descriptions (but don’t get too carried away) than the screen writer. Still, that knowledge, judiciously sprinkled throughout a script, will give it the feeling of reality.
And that’s what we want our readers to have. Reality.
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.