Saturday, 1 January 2011

Get Some Attitude

‘I can’t do it,’ Abigail said, doing that stupid soppy thing with her eyes that makes her look like a pug about to be sick. Pathetic.

‘Give it to me,’ I said, grabbing the jam jar from her. I’d show her.


‘I can’t do it,’ Abigail said, looking at me with big eyes shining like stars, so fragile, so helpless, for a moment I could hardly speak.

‘Give it to me,’ I finally managed, gently taking the jam jar from her delicate fingers, hoping that this time I’d get the lid off.


The dialogue is the same, the actions are the same. The only difference is the narrator’s attitude. When I read I like to know how the characters are feeling about the situation, otherwise I might as well be reading a script. I want to feel I am in the scene, experiencing it through their eyes. Their attitudes to life might not be mine, but this is how I’m going to understand them and, in understanding, get involved with their story.

As a writer I find attitude is a useful tool, especially if I’m finding a scene difficult to write. I stop for a minute and ask What is my viewpoint character’s attitude to this situation or these people? How do they feel about what they can see? Then I write the scene using character attitude to drive it, and the scene almost writes itself.

Some people advise that you spend hours and weeks preparing detailed character backgrounds before you start writing but that's not how I work. I don't need to know where a character went to school or what his first pet was. All I need to know is my character's attitude to life.


womagwriter said...

Oh yes - when I'm struggling I stop, put myself in the viewpoint character's shoes (which I clearly must have slipped out of) and try to find out what their attitude is to the scene. Great example snippets, Sarah, thanks!

Sarah Duncan said...

I like writing examples!

It's a fun exercise, writing the same actions and dialogue but with different attitude - I've given it to students in the past but not for ages, so that's solved what to do on the first class this term!