Posts Tagged ‘character’

I’ve heard beginning writers say, “You keep telling me to show how the character feels, rather than tell about it. So, how am I supposed to do that?” And, if I’m being honest, that was me just a few years ago.

The best writers make it easy for us to see what’s happening on the page. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to do. There are two different methods that work well.

The first is to let your reader get inside the character. When this is done well, the reader feels like they are inside the character’s head, watching what is happening through the character’s eyes, feeling the character’s emotions, experiencing the character’s thoughts.

The other method allows the reader to feel like they are standing right next to the character, watching what is happening to the character, seeing how the character reacts to what is going on around them. This type of writing can allow the reader to watch the story unfold like a movie inside their head.

Clear as mud, right? Still doesn’t tell you HOW to do it. It’s actually far easier to see how to do it than it is to have it explained to you.

First, let’s talk being inside the character. This can be done in first or third person.   Here’s a third person example: Brady was upset by what he’d just seen.

This gives you two important pieces of information: 1) Brady just saw something; and 2) What he saw upset him. This is exactly how many beginning writers ‘tell’ the reader about what the character is experiencing.

There are two problems with this, (well there’s probably more than two, but I’m going to concentrate on two for now). Problem one – We have no idea just how upset Brady really is. And to compensate for this, beginning writers will frequently tell the reader how upset the character is. For example: Brady was furious at (shocked by, disgusted with) what he’d just seen.

And there’s the second problem. Writing like that does get the point across. But it’s just not that interesting.

It’s much more effective for the writer to allow the reader to experience the character’s mental and, as my friend Ruth likes to say, visceral reactions. This allows the writer to ‘show’ the character. This also gives the reader a better understanding of the intensity of the character’s reaction (e.g. on a scale from slightly miffed to violently angry). I have a few quick examples below. (I would normally spend more time polishing them up during the editing process, but they’ll work for now.)

Remember, the following statements replace: Brady was upset by what he’d just seen.

Brady closed his eyes to block the sight while his stomach twisted and rolled, and his palms began to sweat. (There’s no need to write: Brady felt sick by what he’d just seen.)

Note – The reactions above are visceral reactions. They include any type of internal reaction that is beyond the character’s control – pounding heart, nausea, sweating, dizziness, etc.

Or

Brady scowled and shook his head at the sight before him. Then he turned and began the long walk back to the car.  Alone.

Or

Brady cursed as he raced forward, ignoring the shooting pain in his calves and the stitch in his side. He couldn’t take his eyes off the sight in front of him, nor could he bring himself to stop. Even though he would be far too late.

Including internal mental and visceral reactions also works well in first person. For example:

I wanted to shout at them to be quiet, though I could barely hear the rumble of their words over the buzzing in my ears. What I’d just seen wouldn’t settle into place. The images kept twisting and writhing in my head.

Those are all ways to let the reader inside your character. The other method a writer can use is to let the reader watch how the character feels through their physical reactions – basically, watching the action from outside of the character. For the purpose of this exercise, assume Jenny asked Brady a question and Brady responded with excitement.

Have you ever read something like: “Yes,” Brady answered Jenny, excitedly.

I’ve again told you two important things. 1) Brady has answered a question from Jenny; and 2) Brady’s excited about it. But this doesn’t let us know how excited Brady feels. And I’ll be the first to admit, Brady seems pretty boring here. So how can I show the reader how Brady feels with physical reactions? Here’s a few examples:

Bouncing from one foot to the other, Brady answered Jenny before she even had a chance to finish the question. “Yes. The answer is definitely yes.”

Or

“Yes!” Brady’s shout had everyone’s head turning, so they all had a clear view when he grabbed Jenny and swung her around in a dizzying circle.

Or

Brady gave each of us a high five before turning to Jenny. “Absolutely!”

What about in first person? Yes, you are inside the character’s head, but you can still show physical reactions.

I did a quick happy dance. That was probably answer enough for Jenny. But just in case…”Yes!”

Hopefully, this makes the difference between showing and telling a little clearer than mud. It takes a lot more effort to provide descriptions, and it’s often tempting to just stick an adjective on the end of a dialog tag (e.g. …Brady said, excited).

I used to struggle with this. What are the authentic physical and visceral reactions to the numerous situations we put our characters into? Unless this comes naturally to you, it’s not realistic to plan to stop writing in order to scare yourself, or to remember something painful, to experience genuine reactions that you can describe for your character. However, I’ve found something very helpful, and I recommend it for anyone who has trouble ‘showing’ how their characters feel. While there are a number of good reference books, I have one that I always keep on the table when I write at home. I also have an electronic copy on my phone that I can use if I’m writing somewhere else. It’s called The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It provides physical, mental, and visceral descriptions for a wide variety of emotions.

It should be noted that the descriptions I used in this post all came out of my head, and The Emotion Thesaurus is in no way to blame!

HappySadTheatreMaskOur characters are people – real in our mind, real on the page, and real in our hearts. Make them as real to your readers as they are to you.

This is the most important part of a novel. We might have excellent plots that twist and turn with fresh surprises at every angle, or a beautiful, imaginative world that inspires us with awe. Maybe a fresh, fascinating story rarely told, or even masterful prose with transcendent knowledge and application of language. But take any book you love, replace the characters with flat shadows of people, and you are left only with empty, black ink.

From the first line of our story, invest the reader in the characters we create. Show us what they care about. It could be as important as saving the universe, or as small as caring for a single daisy. But if our characters care, our readers will care. So, how do we do this?

Real people have passions. If our character loves gardening, don’t tell us that she gardens everyday. Show us how warm she feels as the sun beats on her back, as her hands ache with the pressure of churning soil, how much she sweats as she labors away for hours, but show us her satisfaction of witnessing seeds of nothingness grow with time into delicious tomatoes, or red roses, or juicy watermelons. And she doesn’t have to be good at it. She just needs to be passionate about it.

Emotion is universal. Everybody can identify with it, so the stronger the emotion (well…this can be overdone), the stronger the connection. I recommend overstating emotion. In theatre, emotion is overstated, as it is in cinema and books. But the reader won’t be able to tell if you do it right. Exaggerated emotion is one of the keys to storytelling. This doesn’t mean our character runs around on a rampage shooting or slicing everyone up, neither does it mean our character should drive around crying everywhere after her boyfriend dumps her. Here’s what it can mean: Our character reacts internally after witnessing a herd of buffalo stampede over her freshly budded grove of plant life. Depending on what kind of person she is, she could scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” (not recommended), or we can show her feeling the strong loss of creating something from nothing, then shoving down the exaggerated emotion, only to unleash it at a later time – directed at someone undeserving. Which is the more interesting story? Who do you identify with more? If your answer is the screaming psychopath, perhaps you should join Darth Vader and the Dark Side.

Point is, when readers identify with the characters, and when they have a stake in the story, we become invested. And when we become invested, we now have a stake in the story. We’ll flip the pages from cover to cover to see what happens next, unable to set the book down. We’ll feel both satisfied at the end, and disappointed there is nothing of the story left to read.

In the title, I also mentioned growth. In a great story, not only does our protagonist change, but our antagonist also changes. Many writers miss the latter point. This doesn’t necessarily mean our antagonist transforms into a saint, but it can mean they learn an important life lesson, or devolve into something even worse.

So, growth of our protagonists. (We can also show protagonists devolving.) What better way to show growth at the end, than flaws at the beginning. Real people have flaws, right? You have flaws, don’t you? I certainly have no flaws, but we all know you do, right? Right, where were we? Flaws, yeah. It’s okay for our characters to have flaws, especially if they’re universally identifiable. What makes a story interesting is how our characters deal with those flaws. Do they learn from their mistakes and get over hard-learned obstacles? Or do they fall to the Dark Side like our forever-friend Darth Vader? Show the story, don’t tell it. Make the reader a friend by showing our characters’ experiences as they endure them. Then leave that lasting impression by showing how far they’ve come. Key is to show our protagonists’ progression little at a time, then compound the growth with extreme experiences. But never leave them stagnant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if our characters grow too much too quickly, they might lose that ever-so-important quality – reader identification.

Transformation also ties integrally with growth, the difference being, they are rarely recognizably the same person when comparing them at the beginning of the book to the final page. We need to be careful here. As advised above, if our characters grow too quickly, we will lose our audience. Want your characters to transform? Throw unique, interesting, and hard – very, very hard – decisions and obstacles in their paths. They need to make the emotional or logical choice for who they are at that time – which changes them forever. Then keep doing it again. But beware, always change the pace. If we have a non-stop, hard-hitting pace from start to finish, our readers will never be able to come up for air. And breathing is important for most of us.

In Elements of Advanced Storytelling, I promised to dig into the differences between active, reactive, and proactive characters, and which are the most interesting in stories. Okay everyone, raise your hands. Active? Eh, might get a few hands in the air. Reactive? Hmm, probably only one or two. Okay, what about proactive? AHA! There they are! Raise them nice and high! Yep, you are right. Proactive characters are by far the most interesting, and here’s why.

Reactive characters only do what? That’s right – react! Our antagonists will likely be the most interesting characters in this type of character story because they are making everything happen. They are making the decisions for our protagonists – shaping them, forcing them to enact whatever evil plans our antagonists are concocting. Just about the only interesting thing our protagonist can do in this situation is react unexpectedly. But that’s a far cry from our other two types. Active characters are good. They will react, but will also push back. They will create tension, and exert a moving role to drive the story forward. Now, proactive characters take charge. Proactive characters don’t necessarily always know what they want, but they always make decisions (good or bad). This makes for a much more interesting story. It is highly common for the inciting incident in our novel to cause a reaction in our character that impels the story forward all the way to the last page. But if our protagonists are actively doing something in the beginning, and drive the story forward all on their own, that’s when we get caught staying up into the wee hours of the night reading that novel we just can’t put down. This is real tension – driven purely by our proactive characters.

Outlines. Some of us use them, some of us don’t. But I recommend everyone sketch out at least enough about our main characters to understand who they are. The worst thing we can do is think we know our characters, then make them do something they normally wouldn’t for the sake of the plot. If you want a good reference for an outline, here’s my advice. Make your own. There are numerous character outlines you can download off the net. Some are very detailed, some are vague. But, we all need to find that character outline that fits our story, then make it. It could be as little as describing their personalities, their likes/dislikes, tastes, experiences, and what they would do if held at gunpoint. Yes, many characters will never face that latter problem, but you need to know your characters. What better way than to consider what they would do in a life or death situation?

Want more outlining? Okay, write down how you want them to change throughout your novel. Who do they meet? How do they interact? Write down a few jokes they would tell, or physical tics or eccentricities. Show us their turning points and future moments of clarity. The list goes on and on. We should never put it all in our novel, but as writers, we need to know. Key is, stay organized, stay on track. And remember, sometimes when we write that novel, the outline flies out the window. Allow our characters to change, to experience life beyond the bounds we’ve set forth in an outline.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to express yourself. I want to hear your thoughts. I’ve found the above to be some of the best methods (that by the way work universally), but I always keep an open mind, and I’m always striving to learn and grow – to be better than I was yesterday. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments. Thanks!

Have you ever immersed yourself in a story, you like a character, and then you toss the book across the room with an exasperated sigh? Simply because a character did something they would never do. And I ask you this: is it against the character’s grain given the events of their fictional creation, or is it from you imprinting your own expectations, your own personality, and your own wants upon the character?

In our society, people often confuse strength with power. Strength comes from right action, doing what is right given what you think and say. Power comes from doing whatever you dare regardless of your beliefs. These are the people who’s actions are always questioned, usually frowned upon, and easily turn villain. I think of Socrates in example. He was given the chance to leave. No one wanted his death, they just wanted him to get out of town and stop teaching. Power, for him, would have been leaving and continuing to spread his knowledge. Yet, he understood, if he left, it would betray every word he had ever spoken. So, he drank Hemlock. That is strength.

Now, this dialogue I share with you stemmed from a discussion I held with a colleague. While reading a scene from the novel I’m still rewriting (will it ever see light?) she didn’t agree with the reaction of a character.

Background–the protagonist is a boy who was raised solely by his mother, and within my world, they share a deep bond. For the first time in their lives, they are separated when the boy starts training as a knight. The mother fears what his life will become, and a few years later, she receives the news her son is on the verge of death. Upon hearing these words, the mother has a strong visceral reaction. Her skin pales and she nearly faints. This is the fear she’s held in her heart all her life.

My colleague felt this wan’t a proper reaction since a strong, female character wouldn’t display weakness. And I had to think upon this for some time.

When I write a character, I construct them from within. Meaning, I think of their life. How they grew up, what they believe, how they act, etc. And wether they are male or female, their actions will always be based on the culmination of their life events.

For some reason, I’ve been speaking about expectations a lot this week, but if you have not gathered it, I don’t have them. Life cannot be viewed for what it is with them, and will only be seen for what you desire it to be. It is the same with people. Humans are capable of strength, weakeness, vulnerability, tears, hate, or any other trait you can ponder. These are not attributes limited to either sex, despite what our society would have you believe.

Now, coming back to my colleague’s comment, I decided the mother’s reaction was proper given her life. I will not betray her charcter to present the antithesis of perceived notions of society. I will not hand her power. She instead has strength, for two reasons: it is a proper action given what she thinks and says, and more important, I believe there is no shame in expressing emotion.

Emotion is what makes us human. It is what makes life worth living, and why should we limit our emotions because someone in power says we shouldn’t feel something? In the short of it, the reason for this post, don’t allow others to shape your ideas of how people should act. Anyone is capable of anything regardless of what is between their legs.

CherryBlossomIn the following weeks, I’ll delve into how to take our writing to the next level. In the past months, I’ve written a lot about basic storytelling, shared best practices, shown how to hone our skills, and revealed a little about characters and world building. Here, I’ve broken out Advanced Storytelling into a number of important elements, and will detail each of these into individual posts in the weeks that follow. Hope you enjoy!

  • HOOK YOUR READER: From the first line in your story, it is important to suck the reader in by showing immediate tension with your protagonist. Next week, I’ll discuss what first lines we should avoid, which are overused, and what ingredients grill up an exciting hook. However, this goes far beyond that introductory sentence. When is it appropriate to relax the tension? When should we begin to delve into back-story? At what points in our story should we re-hook the reader with another twist? How do we end it in a way that is both satisfactory to the reader, and leaves them craving for more? Stay tuned, and we’ll delve into the details.
  • AUTHENTIC CHARACTER EMOTION – FLAWS, GROWTH, ARCS, AND TRANSFORMATION OF PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS: I’ve shown in previous posts how important character emotion is. Emotion links us to our characters, gives us a stake in the story, and makes us truly care about what happens – connects us to fresh and new experiences. Might even have an impact on our world outside of reading. In this topic, I’ll discuss at what points in our story we should show character growth, (or the lack of), and dig into how to make this experience truly impactful to the reader. We’ll review best practices and the art of taking our characters’ arcs to the next level – both protagonists’ and antagonists’. I’ll explain the differences between proactive, active, and reactive characters. We’ll also dig into this scientifically – showing outlines and how this relates to our plot elements and increases tension.
  • TENSION, CONFLICT, AND THE DRIVING FORCE: To keep the story moving and our readers impulsively flipping the pages into the wee hours of morning, it is imperative to show the steady progression of plot and characters, the enticing details of hazards and wrenches, and the difficulties and growth that ensues. Some good advice: the more we torment our characters, the more interesting the story. When should we ramp up the tension and conflict? When should we relax? Sub-plots are at times necessary, but many times they are not. It is important to consistently progress the storyline, and at the same time, show the little steps and interesting details that keep the readers holding their breath.
  • YOUR WORLD – DETAILS, CULTURE, AND SENSES: It is easy to bog the reader down with unnecessary details, or do the opposite and not show enough. Where is the balance? This depends a lot on the story, style, genre, characters, length, and voice. But it is always important to make the world we portray real to our audience. Here, we’ll delve into the finer details and examples of great stories with interaction – and the differences of styles and how they relate to the overall theme and story structure.
  • THE THREE ACTIONS – ACTION, REACTION, INTERACTION: Characters and the world, the reader and writer, the plot and details. In this topic, I will discuss how we put it all together with the “Three Actions.” I’ll show how they interrelate and the parallels between them. I’ll reveal why these elements are so important and how they impact the storytelling experience.
  • STORY STRUCTURE AND THEMES – OUTLINING VS “PANTSING”: Hundreds if not thousands of books crowd the market, all showing the best ways to structure a story. Here, we will dig into why there are so many different methods, which to use, which to avoid, and why. Is there a “best” way, or does it depend on the style of the author? Should we conform to what the world is telling us, or enhance our natural strengths? There is much controversy here, and I will take a neutral stance in order to show the broadest picture, explain why so many authors are adamant that their own opposing and conflicting views are correct, and give my advice on how to proceed in this vast sea of style.
  • PROSE WITH STYLE AND VOICE – CLARITY, BREVITY, AND WORD CHOICE: Writing is an art, but with any art, the more knowledge and experience one has, the more likely one will succeed. The broader our experiences and perspectives, and the more we open ourselves to possibilities and ideas, the more likely we will achieve our goals. Our work ethic matters. Our passions matter. We must know ourselves, stay in tune to our strengths and weaknesses, then actively make ourselves improve and grow. Grammar might seem basic, but the more knowledgeable one is, the more command one has of language – not to mention an understanding of which rules are breakable and when. In this topic, I will discuss the differences between character and author voice, and expand on the importance of the words we use, and how we use them. There are many styles of storytelling, and I will show examples of some of the most common, and analyze their differences.

Like many, I have a passion for storytelling, but I’m also acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. The elements of self-awareness, knowledge, patience, understanding, wisdom, and work ethic are all fruits that set me on my path to success. To grow as a writer is to grow as a person. I look forward to your future comments and interactions.

Hands1I like action movies, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. Sounds like a dating site mantra, right? Well, there might be something more to this.

Real people have tastes, real people have likes, dislikes, and preferences. Real people discriminate both positively and negatively. Real people are unique. Shouldn’t our characters share similar attributes?

It’s easy to get lost in our plots, interactions, world building, story structure, prose, and a million other important building blocks of storytelling. But in any great book I’ve read, characters are at the center of it all. Characters who seem like real people.

My advice, learn about your characters. In an outlined, plot-driven story, it’s easy to forget about their decisions. It’s easy to make them do something because the plot requires it. But is that decision something our characters would make if truly given the option? Do we even know?

Spend some time building your characters. Get to know their families and friends. Discover what sorts of people they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time. What decisions have they made in their past to get them to where they are today? What are their hobbies?

In addition, I recommend truly looking at whether they play inactive or active roles in your story. In other words, are your protagonists responding only to how your antagonist set them up, or are they actively progressing and growing based on their own motivations? Commonly, protagonists play inactive roles in the beginning of stories due to the antagonist’s inciting incident, then grow based on their experiences and interactions. However, most great stories I’ve read show the characters actively making hard decisions and progressing the story themselves – and from the very beginning – instead of being pulled along by the plot.

Now, should all the characters likes, dislikes, and preferences be included in the story? I say no. But as the writer, it is important you know them. Give hints to some, and reveal others. This will make a character jump out of the page and come to life.

In short, characters are people too! Know them better than your best friend, even better than yourself. You alone know their pasts, their present, and their futures. Show us who they are, connect us to them, and we won’t be able to put that story down.

I flew from Sacramento to Denver today, and during the flight, began considering the effects of traveling. Which got me thinking about characters in books. Naturally. (I know, I’m weird.)

Traveling is hard on the body and mind. Strange to consider, because all we’re really doing is sitting there, right? Wrong.

Anytime we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our subconscious heightens our sense of awareness. For some of us, the effect is more conscious. But the more we travel, and the more familiar the locations, the easier it is for our mind to predict. Thus, lowering our stress levels, and lessening exhaustion.

Traveling must be tiring for our characters also. It can be easy to see the plot, know what needs to happen, then write it. But, it’s important to reflect on how this impacts the characters. Are they accustomed to traveling? Are they used to the methods of traveling? Are they familiar with the locations they are traveling to? The journeys our characters take affect them, change them, mold them. But, how?

Look at yourself and consider the effects on you. When you take a trip, how exhausted are you when arriving at your destination? Or perhaps you’re so excited, adrenaline kicks in and you don’t feel the effects until the next day. Interesting, no?

Characters are people too! So write them that way. Show their exhaustion on their journeys. Show their excitement. Show how sore riding in a saddle all day makes them. Show them daydreaming while driving a great distance, then realizing with surprise that they’ve driven miles.

There are many ways to show the effects of travel, but above all, show their humanity. Show realistic emotions and reactions – this will create empathy and understanding. Create tension due to the stress of traveling.

How does this change them? You decide.

Building Character

Posted: January 19, 2013 by jennyleelee in Jenny's Words
Tags: , , , , ,

I was watching a movie with my daughter the other day and she turns to inform me that the villain in the plot was not nice and needed a time out. It occurred to me that my two and a half year old knew what behavior was acceptable, and what behavior warranted some “thinking time,” which ultimately tells me that we are wired to respond to the character of a person without realizing that we are responding to it. Which, of course, makes me really watch my own behavior as much as I possibly can because it’s not what I say that she’ll remember, but what I do in spite of my words.

Physical actions of character often dictate the inner qualities of a person. If I see a teenager open a door for an elderly couple, I automatically perceive the teenager as a thoughtful person. If I see a man and a woman holding hands and leaning into each other, I automatically perceive love and devotion.  If I see a kid breaking all things around him, I begin to wonder about the hurt that might fueling the wreckage.

It doesn’t take much to show character in real life–we do it without thinking–but in writing, it is a real challenge.

I love to read. I love the ability to leave my world and find myself in a place with someone else, to watch the world develop through their eyes. But, I absolutely hate it when an author describes what the character is feeling by nudging me and blatantly saying, “She is sad because the glass broke.” I would much rather see how the sadness creeps up over the person, and what that person fixates on during the emotion. Does the character cry? Does she hold back the tears? Does her body tremble? Do her ears pop? The point is that character is something that is demonstrated, not something that is told.

Building character within a person takes experiences and actions–the same goes with people in our stories. Give the characters a chance to breathe, to grow within their choices, to achieve some goals, and to fail to reach others. Give them life and have them react to the world that you’ve created for them. Maybe even have the same scenario for different characters, and watch how they react differently because of their own personal character traits.

My daughter’s wide eyes and enthusiasm for trying everything around her reminds me that character is more than just words and intentions, it’s what we do that really makes a person matter to everyone else. After all, communication of character is never about what a person promises, but what he follows through on.

Whether you write in Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, YA, Erotica, Literary Fiction, Horror, or in any other genre, your world shows us your reality.  Some stories require little world development, (as earth already exists).  However, others require a great deal of thought and imagination.  But whatever story you choose to write, make your world a character.

WorldCharacters.  This main element keeps me flipping the pages of any great novel.  I love experiencing life from inside characters’ minds.  It keeps me on my toes, allows me to feel what they feel, hurt when they hurt, love when they love, and hate when they hate.  Writing from a POV (Point of View) is an incredibly valuable tool to develop.  But what does this have to do with the setting – the world?

Well, how do we experience life but through our senses?  Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  And let’s not forget what emotions these senses evoke, the reactions they elicit.  Setting can create tension, complement the mood of the scene, add dangers and surprises to the story, and most of all – can interact with the characters.

Imagine a world without weather – a world neither cold nor hot.  A world without sunlight or darkness – without homes, jungles, mountains, beauty, or horrors.  A world we couldn’t interact with.  If we could imagine such an “environment,” it would be a pretty boring place to live.

The setting of a story allows us a unique opportunity to exaggerate real life, show emotion through a storm, torment our characters, and experience beauty of the impossible.  You might already have a great story with interesting character arcs, a tight 3 act structure, and an awesome beginning and end, but if you don’t have a developed setting, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity for exploration and experience.

One question I ask myself after creating a new world from scratch is:  How much of this should I show in my story?  The answer?  If you’ve done your homework – created fascinating countries and cities with rich history, know the evolution of your plant life and beasts, generated interesting cultures, wars, literature, languages, games, not to mention weather, magic (if necessary), oceans, and naming conventions – do NOT include all of this in your story.  Show only about 1%.  It isn’t possible to include everything, and if you try, your story will turn out heavy and boring.  Fiction is neither the place nor time for telling.  Take a college class or read some non-fiction.

Instead, show.  Don’t tell.  Let us experience and interact with this fascinating world through the characters’ senses.  Don’t tell us of the history of an ancient palace.  Instead, let your character’s hands run over the rough cracks and ancient carvings.  Let us smell the dust in a cellar that hasn’t seen the light of day for a century.  Let us taste the sweet fruit that exists only in your imagination.  Let us fear as your unique beasts threaten us, as your storms thwart us, as your prisons break us.  Let us fall in love with the colors of your mountains, the smells of your food…  The point is, show us the story that exists in your world – don’t tell us of the world itself.

Once you have developed your world, your characters’ interactions will become richer, the plot more interesting, the arcs more tense.  And if your story doesn’t require world-building, still, let the characters interact with the environment.  If we’re in a cafe, I want to know what the coffee tastes like and if its raining outside.  Show me an argument on the streets, subtle looks of passersby, the discomfort of a three-legged chair, the annoyance of being seated beneath a fan on a cold day.  The richness of your setting allows you to show the personalities of your characters, allows them to interact more freely, and creates a more realistic impression on the reader.

So make that setting a character!  Experiment.  Let your surroundings inspire your imagination.  Both most of all, have fun doing it!  The more fun you have, the more you fall in love with your story, and the more involved you are with your characters, the better the reactions of your readers.  They will love you what you love, hate what you hate, smile when you smile, and cry when you cry.