Guest Post with Eric

September 1, 2010 at 5:34 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


Note from Cassandra: I’m visiting Eric’s blog today but he has generously agreed to guest post here in the realm. Thanks Eric, it is great to have you here. After you’ve checked out Eric’s post, pop on over to Working My Muse and check out the first post of my blog tour.

First off I’d like to say a huge thank you to Cassandra for having me at Casa ‘del Jade.  Guest blogging here (being the first person, no less) is awesome beyond words.  But since you’re all expecting at least a few words, I guess I better become temporarily brilliant.

When I began to search my brain for a topic, I’ll be honest;  I became a little stressed.  While I do have my own flair, this is a new type of fun and puts blogging on a whole new level.  And fronting for Cassandra is pretty dang cool.  This thought took me down an interesting path however, and I began thinking about my characters.

When we write our stories, it’s expected that our characters deal with change, with difficult situations.  This is part of what helps propel our stories forward and keep the reader interested.  But isn’t it reasonable to have our characters get a little stressed from time to time?  And how do we show that in our writing?  One way we can describe this is through physical effects.  For example, I tend to get cold sores on the inside of my lip when I get too stressed.  If I really get stressed out, upset stomach is an indicator.  I can imagine something similar for my characters.

What about situational descriptions?  If my characters come upon a body, torn apart from some unknown violence, do they just abstract about the nature of death or do they lose a bit of their usual cool demeanor?  Consider the following conversation:

“Oh damn Billy, that guy’s dead.  Lookit how his arm is hangin’ kinda wrong.  And his head is split open like one of those punkins you toss out at Halloweenie.”

“Yep, he ain’t with us no more.  Can’t tell who he was, but them tears along his belly look almost like Freddy Kruger claws.  Weird, huh?  So you wanna go get some pizza?”

Now unless you’re looking for a comedic moment, the reader might be expecting a little more from these two characters stumbling across an obviously mangled body.  Dead bodies usually cause sane people to freak out a little.  Perhaps one of them just crumbles on the floor, wailing in agony while the other one is more interested in investigating what happened to the poor chap.  However you choose to deal with this situation, moments like these are a great opportunity to show characterization.  The only caveat I would add is to avoid clichés or stereotypical responses to stress.  If it fits your character honestly, then cool.  But if it sounds like the same ol’ phrasing everyone uses, you probably want to avoid it.

To sum up, stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when we’re writing a story.  Stress is one of the best moments we can use to bring our characters alive, make them truly real.  Just keep the writing honest, not cliché.  Thank you Cassandra for allowing me to grace your page.  This has been a fun exercise for me.

As for the rest of you, have you stressed your characters out lately?  If not, what are you waiting for?  A stressed-out character is a real character – even if they’d rather be in Cancun sipping a margarita on the beach.

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10 Comments

  1. kateshrewsday said,

    One of the greatest stressmonkeys of mythology was Scheherezade. What better incentive to write timeless classic fiction than the threat of having your head chopped off the next day if you don’t cough up? She told tales for 1001 nights….I just committed to 50, and I’m feeling the strain. Amazing how the threat of execution hones those skills…

  2. writerleerobertson said,

    Great post, Eric. You’re right that cliches are to be avoided, or clunky beats like “He snarled, then grit his teeth, then let out a loud cry.” : ) I just read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan and I think she did a good job of showing the characters’ stressful moments (and there are loads of those…).

    Some examples from the book:
    “Edwin is drenched in sweat, his heavy face a mask of worry. He has spread into a thick older man with a large round head.”
    or
    “Mamah gripped the sink and glimpsed herself in the mirror. I look insane, she thought.”

  3. Cassandra Jade said,

    Hey Eric, thanks for the post. I have to agree that we really see our characters once we’ve stressed them out.

  4. Carol Kilgore said,

    I’m revising now and upping the stressful moments as I go. Good post.

  5. lbdiamond said,

    Nice post! Oh yeah, my MC is stressed–poor kid. I feel bad for him. Sort of. Mwahahahaha! (Um, that was an evil laugh. 😉 )

  6. Carol Ann Hoel said,

    Great advice. I like the dialog you used to demonstrate your point. Thank you for visiting us via Cassandra’s magnificent blog.

  7. AlexJ said,

    Great post, Eric, and such a great idea to trade posts for the day.
    Just this week a couple new ideas hit me on how I can stress out the main character in my current project. I intend to rock his world, and not in a good way!

  8. tessaquin said,

    Dear Cassandra,

    Unrelated to this great article:

    I think your blogs are fantastic and I’ve decided to award you the Versatile Blogger and One Lovely Blog Awards. Congrats, you deserve them! (See them on my page and copy them to yours, if you wish)

    Tessa 🙂

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