You’re writing a scene where the POV character remembers pretending to perform in a circus with her brother. Aw, that’s sweet…we think. Except for a mere mention of an event tells us nothing about the experience. Was it a good moment or a less than positive time in her life? We know she had a childhood and a brother. We know she was imaginative. Or maybe her brother was the one with the imagination? These are important facts, but as readers, we look to the details to inform us how this memory was relevant to the current situation. If a picture says a thousand words, we need the thousand words and more to paint an effective picture, set a mood, show her feelings and the events shaping those feelings. Without these thousand words, the reader won’t experience the “ah,” the “oh,” and the “yikes” of the scene.
So how do we spark these feelings in readers?
As writers, we gift people with exposition. We educate and edify by giving readers glimpses into the character’s psyche, for better or worse. We get the joy of exposing details. In those details, we help readers feel what our characters feel, for better or worse. Were brother and sister hand-in-hand standing on the backs of two horses? What were the horses like? Did the two children bend their knees as the horses cantered around the ring? Did the horses have wide or narrow backs, plumes of feathers on their heads? Did her brother steady her as she almost fell off the make-believe horse? What items did they pretend were horse backs? Mood—the feelings, the emotion—hides in tiny words and specific images.
This is a loving, supportive and positive scene, designed to make readers nostalgic and perhaps look forward to an upcoming reunion or ready them to miss a brother killed in a car accident.If your character misses her brother, ask her why. What, from the past, can showcase those feelings and help your reader step into your POV character’s shoes? Ask and no doubt she will tell you.
Small changes in detail can have the opposite effect. What if her brother was a whip-wielding lion-tamer, flicking a willow branch in her face and cutting her lip? Perhaps he locked her in a “cage” for fifteen minutes that felt like hours? Such details set the mood for a different story—one about overcoming anger, or her struggle to forgive a brother who now needs her help.
Either way, these scenarios are powerful mood setters and ones that will help readers step into your main character’s mood—two different moods and, thus, impressions of her brother and childhood.
Is this manipulation? Do writers twist readers’ hearts like play dough, fresh and barrel-shaped from its yellow tub? Everyone has reasons for feeling the way they do—fair and rational reasons, whether they are “good guys” or “bad guys.” If you can find your characters’ motivations, reasons for feeling what they do, and explain these reasons to your readers, they will feel the “Oh.” They will also, likely, side with said characters and be willing to overlook some poor behavior and possibly even…stupidity.
Miracles happen when you wish upon a Christmas star.
When Misty discovers Papa wanted to be an astronomy professor and gave it up to raise her, she signs him up for grad school and donates her savings to the cause. Unbeknownst to her, Papa has sold his telescope equipment so Misty can quit her ferry job and go to medical school. It’s love, sweet and simple, though a different kind than she feels toward Jack, the med student she meets on her shift. This “Gift of the Magi” retelling is a disaster unless wishes and prayers really do come true.
Kathleen Freeman – Ferry rides across the beautiful Puget Sound and exploring the rocky beaches of Washington are among Kathleen Freeman’s favorite activities. Always fascinated with physiology and the brain, she was inspired to become a brain surgeon after a Star Trek episode. She never pursued that passion, but does brain surgery of a different kind through her writing. Once upon a Christmas Star is an unexpected nod toThe Gift of the Magi.