GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Ink Well-one writer's process explained for the reader: Narration Part Two by Adrienne Wilder | I Smell Sheep

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ink Well-one writer's process explained for the reader: Narration Part Two by Adrienne Wilder

Narration Part Two

In my last post I addressed narration and how it is used to convey information to the reader about how the character speaks and how the character interacts with the environment around him.

In this post I want to touch on how to use narration to describe a character to the audience and to convey the thought process experienced by the character. I am specifically going to use the romance genre for this example because this is one of the most important aspects of that genre.

Part One:
A character’s characteristics.

If you have read more than twenty novels in your life I can guarantee you there is at least one where the description of a character is delivered in catalog fashion or through the character’s self observations when looking in a mirror.

While neither one of these methods is wrong, they do tend to be overdone. So I thought I might present a few alternate ways that kind of information can be delivered to the audience.

All right. Imagine the character you want to describe, and feel free to be as detailed or as vague as you choose in regards to his physical characteristics as well as the clothes he/she is wearing. Now that you have your character in your head let’s have him/her walk into an old book store, with narrow aisles, rickety, furniture, bad lighting, and a white long-haired cat.

Now, as I introduce my character you, I want you to put your own character in his/her place and picture in your mind how they would interact with the environment.

The bells on the door clanged against the frame.

Sagging bookshelves went from the floor to the ceiling and lamps on side tables tossed out yellow light. The red and gold interior of the old store was just as warm as it had appeared through the window.

Oliver pulled his hood back and stomped his feet on the mat.

A slow fog crept of the edge of his glasses and he wiped them off with the hem of his shirt.


He took a couple of steps and the top of his head grazed the overhang at the edge of the foyer.

Spider webs tangled in his bangs. He slapped them away and they stuck to his fingers. He scrubbed them off on his jeans.

“Is anyone here?”

Water droplets traced his steps to the edge of the carpet. A coat tree stood in front of the window. He took off his duster and hung it on the peg next to a dark wool overcoat.

A bump to his shin sent Oliver stumbling back. His foot caught the edge of the coat tree. He made a grab for the chair sitting next to it, but wound up slamming his elbow into the arm. It skittered a few feet and he landed on a pair of rain boots. The wool overcoat slipped off the coat tree and blanketed his head.

He peeled it back. A pink nose, and a bushel of whiskers danced in front of a pair of bright green eyes. The cat rubbed the length of his body on the front of Oliver’s sweater leaving behind a streak of white hairs.

He sneezed and the cat bolted.

He sneezed again and his eyes watered.

Oliver was sure the next one would cost him a lung.

“Are you all right?”

The fog on Oliver’s glasses returned and the man looking down at him was reduced to a hazy blur.

“Fine.” He slid off the lump of shoes and dumped the coat on the floor.

“I must have been in the back when you came in. Here, let me help.” The guy offered Oliver a hand. At least, he was pretty sure it was a hand. He rubbed his thumb over the right lens.

Fingerprints weren’t much better than the fog.

Oliver took the offering and pushed off the wall. The sole of his loafer slid on the tile, throwing him off balance.

The stranger made a surprised yelped as he was yanked over. His elbow caught Oliver on the chin, his knee landed between his legs. Someone’s arm, Oliver didn’t know if it was his or the other man’s, hit the coat tree.

Oliver’s duster softened the landing, but one of the pegs from the falling coat tree hit him in the temple with enough force he’d have a knot in the morning.

The weight of the stranger settled on Oliver’s chest. His nose was so close to Oliver’s he could count the freckles on his cheeks. They matched his strawberry blond hair perfectly.

“Uh…” The stranger stared wide-eyed.

“Sorry about that.”

Neither one moved. Oddly enough, Oliver wasn’t in all that big of a hurry for the guy to move. Having the weight of the other man, pressing down on him, was actually…quite…nice.

The cat walked by and flicked its tail right along the stranger’s cheek.

Now granted, I haven’t revealed every detail of my character. My personal preference is to sprinkle bits of information through out the manuscript, but in this one page, we have learned a few things about the characters.

Oliver is out late in the day or evening. But we know it’s dark. How? Only when it’s dark can you see well through the average store window.

*Display windows (usually clothing) are different because they have backgrounds to reflect backlight so that people can see the items on display.

We know Oliver is dressed in a duster (long coat) jeans, and a sweater. We also know the sweater is dark because the cat’s white hairs showed.

Oliver wears glasses.

He’s allergic to cat.

Oliver is taller than average because his head grazed the overhang.

He most likely has a large frame since he was heavy enough to pull the other guy over.

Oliver is gay or at least bi, considering he finds the awkward position with the other guy pleasant. If he was straight and just not bothered by the situation, I would not have stated how he was in no hurry for the guy to move and found his body against his, nice.

So far this is what we know about the guy in the bookstore.

He either owns the store or works there. Why own? Most commercial stores would not allow a pet and most small book stores are privately owned. He has blond hair and freckles.

He probably owns a cat.

The guy in the shop is at least average height but not taller, otherwise he would not have landed nose to nose with Oliver given the position of the landing put them hip to hip. Also, if he was the same height, the cobwebs Oliver ran into would have already been knocked down by him going in and out of the store.

He is lighter than Oliver. The guy in the shop wasn’t heavy enough to stay on his feet when Oliver slipped.

His sexual orientation is still unknown but we know he’s at least not insecure and made uneasy by the awkward situation.

While you don’t have every single detail of the characters, that’s a lot to learn about someone in a couple hundred words.

At the same time you are learning about the character’s physical attributes you are learning about the environment. The interior of the store doesn’t have florescent lighting.

It’s clean but has worn out furniture.

It has cobwebs on or close to, the ceiling.

The store is heavily shadowed. Remember it’s clean, but there were cobwebs near or on the ceiling which means they are most likely not visible from the floor.

The interior is decorated in red and gold. Either a rug or carpet on the floor or the upholstery of the furniture is red and gold or a combination of both.

It has some tile flooring.

There are windows around the front.

There is a coat tree.

Again, that’s not a detailed list of what the store looks like, but it is a lot of information. And it is also a reasonable amount of information the average person would perceive when walking into a place.

Now, if Oliver had an above average or even heightened sense of observation, that could have been conveyed to the reader by adding in details, people would not normally notice at first glance.

Let’s say a dead moth in the window, a frayed edge on the rug, that the upholstery on some of the furniture is newer than others. That the bookstore shows some signs it was a different kind of store before it was a bookstore.

If Oliver had a job as an antique dealer/collector or is at least knowledgeable, he could notice the year of the furniture, maybe even appreciate the lamps or not appreciate them because of their make. The rug, or again, the construction of the store (if he specialized in old buildings.)

If Oliver is a book collector he could recognize or at least have his curiosity raised about some of the books he can see on the shelves.

Once again, this is a lot of information and or details that can be conveyed to the audience without having to catalog them or tell the reader what Oliver does, sees, and even some of what he knows.

Emotional State:
Emotional state and or thought process is another important story aspect that can be delivered to the audience without having to tell them what the character is experiencing. These are also some of the more difficult traits to convey to a reader without telling them. In some situation a reader will have to be told what the character is feeling because it’s cleaner. Other times if some work is put into the scene it can be done by showing.

In most genres this kind of detail is given in a moderate amount. In the romance genre the emotional and or mental state of a character is often given priority over the character’s interactions with the environment.

My personal preference is about 50/50 for this, but that’s just me. Many romance readers want a lot of detail when it comes to emotion/mental state. But, as always, do what you feel comfortable with.

Again, I am using the romance genre as an example because that is a genre where you will find a concentration of these aspects within a few pages or paragraphs.

All right, so lets begin where we left off. Our characters have just met each other, and now we are moving on to the emotional/mental state.

We already know a little bit thanks to that next to the last paragraph.

Neither one of them moved. Oddly enough, Oliver wasn’t in all that big of a hurry for the guy to move. Having the weight of the other man, pressing down on him, was actually…quite…nice.

The cat walked by and flicked it’s tail right along the stranger’s cheek.

A flush crept up his neck and he crawled backwards freeing Oliver from the prison of his body.

No not a prison, because that was a place a man would want to escape and if Oliver had his way, escaping would have been the last thing on his list.

“Uh…” The stranger fumbled with the coat rack and the over coat, getting tangled up more than moving it out of the way.

Oliver got to his feet and extended a hand. “Need help?”

The stranger sat there on his knees staring at the mess of fabric balled up in his fists.

“I promise, I won’t bite.” Oliver smiled and for the first time in months it felt natural. His heart still grieved, but at least the world was getting easier to bear. The man in front of him was a kick in the ass reminder that despite the bad there were wonderful moments left to be experienced.

The stranger took Oliver’s hand. The slightest tremor ran up Oliver’s arm from where they touched. He pulled the man to his feet.

It was then he looked up. The deep amber of his eyes was darker than rich honey. Would he taste as sweet?

The warmth of flesh to flesh contact, stirred heat in Oliver’s groin. He let go of the stranger’s hand before he embarrassed himself.

So here we are, another half a page and we’ve learned a bit more about Oliver.

It’s been confirmed that he’s gay/bi because of the obvious sexual attraction he has to the other man. Oliver is confident about himself. He finds the vulnerability of the stranger arousing. He will most likely make a pass at the other man, at some time in this story.

We also learn that something has happened in his life, fairly recently that has hurt him emotionally. At this point we don’t know who, but we can gather from his emotions/mental state they must have been close and they most likely died or at least left his life.

We also learn more about the stranger. He’s shy or at least intimidated by Oliver. Most likely he finds Oliver attractive because of the prolonged contact. He blushes easily or at least in a slightly awkward, potentially sexual or implied sexual situation. Inexperienced? Bad experience? Afraid of his feelings? We don’t know yet.

But those are more details that can be woven into a story and delivered to the reader in a way that will propel the story forward and not stop it to list details. The amount of detail in either of these examples is a matter of preference. Some will want more, some less.

The important thing to remember is, when writing a novel, you have at least a couple hundred pages to tell the reader everything they need to know about the character, so, there is no rush to deliver it all in the first page, pages, or even chapter. Think of these traits like chocolate chips. Too many and you have a melted mess, too few and you only have cookie and no chocolaty goodness.

Use these details to keep the reader intrigued and don’t feel pressured to put every characteristic in a story. Many readers like filling in the blanks and seeing the characters as they would like to see them.

About the Author:
City of Dragons Portfolio (this site has images of gay sex)
Book cover designs for reasonable prices. Take a look at her work:

Be sure to check out Adrienne's best selling trilogy My Brother's Keeper a m/m romance and supernatural dark thriller.

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