Reactions: A Recipe to Propel Your Scenes from Bland to Delicious*--Part One
by Ocieanna Fleiss
by Ocieanna Fleiss
“That was delicious.” No, not my husband’s famous macaroni and cheese (Kraft). The feeling when you gobble down the last page of a well-written novel. Scrumptious descriptions, hot-out-of-the-oven plot points, and satisfying dialog make reading yummy.
But the one ingredient that thrusts a story beyond yummy, sends senses longing for more, transports taste buds is, you guessed it, a character to fall in love with.
One way to create a character to savor is to zero in on reactions.
I Burned the Rolls: Reactions to Obstacles
Arriving, Mrs. Lawrence saw the store was closed, so she left.
Okay, that’s a glaring example of unpalatable prose, but let the pathetic-ness of the sentence warn you. To feel connected to a heroine, a reader must experience the obstacles the character faced and her reactions.
Torrents of rain suffocated the town as Mrs. Lawrence’s horse galloped through the muddy streets. Her new gown was drenched and filthy, but she didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was reaching the pharmacy before it closed. Mr. Lawrence’s life depended on it, and hers.
She turned onto Willis Avenue. “Which store is it!” she screamed to no one. After sliding from her horse and tying it to the post, she ran past each storefront until she found the right one. She grabbed the door handle. Locked. The sign read, “Closed.”
She reacts to the suffocating rain—despite it, she gallops through the streets. She also doesn’t care about her filthy gown. Not knowing which storefront propels her to scream in frustration. These reactions combine to show us her feelings.
Cook’s Hint: Try not to name emotions. Notice that although we know she’s stressed, panicked, and frustrated, I never use those words.
Get Out of My Kitchen! Reactions to People
It’s easy to describe a person walking into a room. I, for one, enjoy painting a picture of a handsome protagonist.
Don Carlos sauntered into the room, his strong stance commanding the peasants’ hopeful stares. His gloved hand held one small parchment, and his deep, sad eyes searched the room.
That was fun. (I wonder who that guy is?) But although it’s a colorful description, very little emotion flows. Let’s try again.
As soon as Don Carlos sauntered into the room, his deep, sad eyes penetrated me, destroyed me, even though he dared not glance my way. Each peasant in the dusty tavern felt their prayers had been answered. I saw it in their hopeful stares.
For me it was different. I’d known Don Carlos, loved him, betrayed him. Lost him. I thought I’d accepted that, but gazing at his gloved hand clasping the parchment that would save my people, I knew he held not only their freedom, but mine. Yet his cold tone and guarded movements told me he’d never give me the one thing I longed for.
(Who is that guy?) Do you see the difference? By showing (not telling) the heroine’s reaction, we grasp her sense of loss, love, and sadness.
Cook’s Hint: One way to gauge if you’re “telling” is if you use the word felt. Avoid whenever possible—it’s sure to sour your soufflé.
Next week, Part Two: reactions to setting.
* This article first appeared in Northwest Christian Author.
Ocieanna Fleiss has cowritten two novels with Tricia Goyer—both for Summerside press. The most recent, Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington, released July, 2010. Ocieanna has also written several articles for national publications and a bi-monthy column for Northwest Christian Writers Association. Homeschool mom of four little ones, she, along with her husband, stay busy at her home in the Seattle area.
Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington by Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss:
The Second World War has stolen Rosalie's fiance from her. But rather than wallow, Rosalie throws herself into her work at the Boeing plant in Victory Heights, shooting rivets into the B-17 bombers that will destroy the enemy. A local reporter dubs her Seattle's Own Rosie the Riveter, and her story lends inspiration to women across the country. While Rosalie's strong arms can bear the weight of this new responsibility, her heart cannot handle the intense feelings that begin to surface for Kenny, the handsome reporter. Fear of a second heartbreak is a powerful opponent - but will it claim victory over love?