Friday, March 9, 2012

Are you Alone?

In pursuant of last week's post, what do you do with a character who is alone, you know, when there's no one around to talk to? Conversation and thoughts are very important ways to transmit information to your reader, but just like you can't tell your best friend or neighbor something they should already know, you can't very well tell yourself things like that either. So what do you do if there's no one around to stimulate conversation and therefore release information? There's always thoughts. What do you think about when you're alone? You may plan out your day, or at least the next few hours. Some people talk to themselves, muttering their concerns or venting their circumstances. If a person is under physical trials, jogging to the next point of conflict or perhaps walking through the desert, it helps to distract the mind from the long and tiring task. What would you think about as a distraction? Actually, that's entirely dependent on the situation and the desired result.

If you're opening your book with a solitary character,  you're faced with the need to hook your reader without much help, so you need to plunge you character right into the middle of their life-threatening problem and force them, and by association, your reader, to figure out how to get out of their predicament and do it quickly. Urgency is a good hook, but urgency needs quickness.

If the solitude has to stretch, it is acceptable to skip over those long lapses of nothing but walking. Who knows? Perhaps your character blanked out as well and just kept moving automatically and then looks up surprised to see he's reached his destination and hasn't made any plans as to what to do next.

Keep in mind though, motion is very important. I've read in several different places that without motion - physical motion of some sort - the story grinds to a halt, so keep your character moving through the story in some way all the time. I'm not talking about just walking or running, but also hand movements and facial expressions, even sitting and standing, or turning and reaching.

So, even though your character is alone, he is looking at things, thinking about things and making decisions all the time. Maybe you character paused to rest and leaned against a tree, but as soon as he touched it, he snatched his hand away. Why? Was the tree covered in sticky sap? Did he put his hand on a bug that bit back? Or did he just lean against the tree and drink in the shade? These are some ways of thinking in images. No real string of words are used, but a sigh of relief or a hiss of pain or disgust will clue your reader into his opinion of the desired situation.

Eyes are also important. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, so use them. Is you character constantly looking over his shoulder? There is a hint of urgency there. Is someone or something chasing, or at least following? Why? Is your character always keeping an eye pealed for possible hiding places? All of these small motions don't need to go with thoughts all the time. Many of them might be instinctive, only to be noticed when such a spot was found.

There are many things a person does while they are alone, going about their day, and the variety of thought-forms can be endless. What do you do with your character when you simply can't skip over those solitary times?


Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice! Gary Paulsen does a great job of writing a character who spends a lot of time alone in his novel Hatchet. The MC is stranded in the forest for most of the novel by himself. It's really well written.

Anna L. Walls said...

I looked it up. Kinda sounds like my every-day life, if you don't count the house. I may have to look a little closer.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Anna. All the bases are covered here. I always think it's potentially one of the most difficult passages in a story, but can be enriched by having the character use all the senses, the most powerful of which is smell. So much can be explained by the smells of a location, but it's often overlooked.

Anna L. Walls said...

So true, Joe. You can play on intensity by jumping at the crackle of a stick breaking somewhere behind you, or feel much closer to the significant other by the mere touch of fingertips to cheek. One must never ignore the senses - all of them. Also, the lack of such input can accentuate the alone-ness of a situation. Just remember that no matter how alone you may be, the senses still detect something.

plumwalk2 said...

I am quite fond of paranoia. Perhaps it comes of reading and working so much with Shakespearean plays and the sililoquy. Good post. Every character must constantly interact with his or her environment. Where there is no conflict, there is boredom for the character and the reader.

Anna L. Walls said...

Yep, a little paranoia can certainly come in handy every once in a while. haha

Shell Flower said...

This is some great advice for a lone MC, and let's face it, all of ours are usually alone at some crucial point, or more.

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