Hey everybody! (You guys need an awesome name like Woodlings or Quill People. I think Woodlings is best. Thoughts?)
ANYWAY, so this week I have the privilege of welcoming a friend and fellow Kingdom Pen intern to the quill. Gabrielle Pollack is a Marvel-obsessed soon-to-be college student who loves storms, despises lame characters, and procrastinates way too much. (But she did get this to me on time so… who’s to say?) Anyway, if you read this awesome post and you decide that you’d like to read more of her helpful stuff, you should check her out on her blog the Great Rising Puzzlement. (Points for the awesome name.) (You can also find some of her stuff on Kingdom Pen. So… check that out too.)
So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado… Gabrielle Pollack!
“So who’s this character again?”
As a reader you may be familiar with these words. Whether you’re watching your favorite show or reading a novel, these words kill your suspension of disbelief. They pull you out of the adventure, forcing you to pause to remember why Suzie Q. was important.
No writer wants their book to incite such a question.
The specifics of your story world like a character’s name, a setting, or a specific bird you made up are important; they keep your reader inside the story world and glued to the plot. If your reader doesn’t remember them however, they’re doomed to flip back in the book, trying to remember who or what you’re writing about.
But all is not lost. I’ve compiled a few tips to help you imprint the nuances of your story worlds into reader’s brains so they won’t forget.
Tip #1: Don’t introduce a group of characters, places, or world building elements all at once.
If you want your reader to remember a person, place, or thing, never cram all that information into one small space. It will be too much for your reader to keep in order.
Same goes with description. When you’re describing a person or place, don’t describe it all at once and never refer to it again. I’m not saying you shouldn’t dedicate a paragraph or two to description. Those paragraphs are often needed to build an adequate picture in the first place. After time, however, that picture will deconstruct. A few reminders here and there will help the reader remember what they were told in the first place.
Tip #2: Use contrast and the atypical.
Contrast is key my friends.
Which do you remember better, a Monday morning when the sky is dark, cloudy, and full of rain, or the Monday morning lit by the sun as sky pelts the earth with hail? The twist in expectations and the dichotomy between a situation, a character, or an object with everything around it will imprint itself into your reader’s memory.
Tip #3 Incorporate detail.
Detail is the key. Along with contrast.
When describing someone, people usually use surface traits, such as “The girl had blond hair and blue eyes,”.
That sort of description will be forgotten a few paragraphs later. Too many blue-eyed golden-haired girls exist in the world for this one to stick out.
Now if you were to tell me her blond hair is rife with split ends and is cut like a blind hairdresser used a chainsaw on it, that I would remember. If you said her eyes were only blue in the shadows and turned pale gray in the sunlight, that’s something specific your readers could reference when building an opinion of the character.
Tip#4 Don’t waste your descriptions. Make them add to the plot.
Piggy-backing off the bad example above, you wouldn’t remember your “blond-hair-blue-eyed girl” not only because of the lack of specificity, but also because the description doesn’t mean anything to the protagonist or the plot.
Now if your protagonist thought all blond-haired girls were shallow and avoided her in response, that effects his actions and as a result, the plot. If the changing color of her eyes is something the villain is looking for, that dictates how he’ll go about finding her, which again affects the plot.
That about sums it up folks. Spread out your descriptions and introductions. Use contrast, create detail. The way you describe will not only paint a sufficient picture, but will aid in keeping those names, people, and places inside the readers minds for future reference, keeping then engrossed in the story.
There you have it. How about a thank you round of applause for Gabby and her profound insights into manipulating the reader’s memories!