As I have said many times before on this blog, characters are the most important part of your novel, short story, or script. Characters will draw readers in and make them care about what’s going on in the story. Characters who are written well act as a connection point for readers. By caring about what happens to the fictional people you have created, your readers will care what happens in your story and want to keep reading. This means that creating believable characters and realistic scenarios for them to operate within is essential.
One of the best ways to make readers care about your characters is to show rather than tell. If you spend pages upon pages explaining a conflict between two characters or a romance that’s supposedly blossoming between two characters, it won’t have as much of an impact as you showing the conflict or romance between the characters.
In a recent LitReactor post entitled 6 Tips for Troubleshooting the Novel, columnist Susan DeFreitas talks about boiling down those important components into scenes. Susan says, “I’ve seen far too many novels in which a conflict between two characters is supposed to be a thing, but the novel never really shows these two conflicting….[this] could be most easily accomplished…in the course of this magic thing called a scene. Backstory too dense for narrative exposition? Contain it in a series of scenes. Need a relationship to be important? Establish it in a scene. Got a theme, running joke, memory, whatever, that’s supposed to be an important part of the story? Stop telling me about it. Put it in a scene.”
I absolutely love this advice and I think it’s something we could all stand to learn from. Too often, we get caught up in the overarching themes and plot lines of our stories, forgetting the smaller scenes that can all contribute to those larger elements. Plot lines and themes can be difficult to manage, and an easy way to break them up and make sure we’re covering all the story bases that we want to cover is to concentrate on scenes.
Basically, you should have your characters experience something rather than just telling your readers about it, or having one character explain something to another. If you’re writing the next super cool and amazing sci-fi thriller novel, you want to have some super cool and amazing scenes in there to make the story pop.
Suppose your story has a super scary Space Council at the center of it. You may really love the idea of this Space Council and spend a lot of time thinking about it, but never actually show it in your story. You may explain the “big, scary, imposing Space Council,” thinking that those words are enough to convey how important the Space Council is. But you could do a much better job of it by showing a meeting between the main character and the Space Council, or something horribly scary the Space Council has done. Rather than relying on those descriptive words, rely on your scenes that will illustrate what you want to get across to readers.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan