Fattening Up A Character
It’s often applied to animals intended for the dinner table and uber-skinny fashion models, but we’ve all heard of someone or something that needs to be fattened up. It applies to fictional characters too, in a different way.
Every author has a story they want to tell. It’s important; it’s intense; it’s exciting. And yet…what really makes a reader’s pulse pound isn’t the story itself, it’s their experience of it. That experience has everything to do with how well they see and feel the characters.
But how do we as readers connect with characters? Easy. We get to know them. Once we know that the main character has a phobia of blueberries, then being dumped in a vat of them is a terrifying moment! (OK, perhaps the blueberry thing is an exaggeration.) The thing is, as an author, you know the characters; you feel with them. The reader needs to too, or the power of everything a character goes through is lost.
So how do we establish this connection? A good writer will draw the characters so vividly for us that we can’t help but know them. When an author does this, quality is much more important than quantity.
For instance, I could say:
“Dave was scared of birds.”
“Dave saw it and he froze. Standing in his path was a dark and horrible thing, black as rot with a voice that could rent heaven. Dave didn’t know what kind it was, but it was a bird and that was all that mattered. It was evil.”
Yes, the second option is longer, and no, you don’t need to do that with every sentence. But consider all the things we learned about Dave from the second example. He’s a bit melodramatic, he’s terrified of birds, and he’s the kind who is likely to freeze when faced with a crisis.
When a reader experiences a crisis with the character, it makes the character real for them.
Consider this example from my new novel, FIGHTING GRAVITY, wherein my eight year old main character has just been removed from his home to join a group of children headed for a prestigious school.
The eyes of all the children in the room were on me and it wasn’t polite interest. Children do rejection very well; very clean and straightforward. None of the pretense adults muck it up with.
I stiffened, strode forward, and plunked down in a comfortable armchair in the middle of the room. I looked back over at Kirti, daring her to join me.
Poor kid, right? You know he’s scared and angry and feeling out of place even though he never says so.
How have you, as a reader, seen this happen? What moments from your favorite books stick with you? Why is that?
When Jacob Dawes is Selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he’s catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob’s own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely, and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor’s heart, but it’s no protection when he’s accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Leah Petersen lives in
She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She
prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while
reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. North Carolina
FIGHTING GRAVITY is her first novel.
After dinner, a servant summoned me to the emperor. This was now twice in as many nights. Was it about something I’d said the night before? That stupid ring?
I was led to where the emperor was talking with the ship’s captain in one of the hallways.
“Good evening, Mr. Dawes. I see you survived the lift-off.” He walked as he spoke, gesturing for me to accompany him.
“It was an incredible experience, Excellence. This is a nice ship you have.”
“Thank you. It’s not a new ship, there was no time for that. But many things were upgraded, the engines included. They’re the best of the best, I’m told. I thought about you during the lift-off. I wondered what you’d make of it.”
“You did?” I asked, stunned.
“Is there something wrong with that?” he asked, his mouth twisted in what looked like amusement but was probably something more dangerous to me.
“No, sir. I guess not…”
“Does it bother you?” He seemed to be teasing me again.
“Some,” I answered.
He stopped. “Why?”
“Because I’m afraid of you.”
He laughed, and started down the hallway again. But after a sideways glance at my face, he quieted. “You really mean that?”
“Oh.” His answer was soft, subdued, even. I got the distinct impression that I’d hurt his feelings.
“You must get that all the time.”
“I do,” he answered, but didn’t look at me. I was more and more sure that I’d offended him somehow.
“So why should it matter, then, Excellence?”
He thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I should be used to it. Of course, no one ever comes out and says it in so many words. It’s a bit of a shock to hear it confirmed like that.”
He stopped again, facing me, a slight furrow between his eyes that I would have called uncertainty, even vulnerability, if I hadn’t known who he was. “Why are you afraid of me?”
“Who wouldn’t be afraid? You can do anything you want with my life and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”
The furrow deepened and he waited, as if I hadn’t explained myself at all.
“You uprooted my life a couple of weeks ago, who knows what you might do tomorrow?”
“You mean, you didn’t want this assignment?” he asked.
Apparently I wasn’t frightened enough to keep my mouth shut. “I want to be here,” I pointed to the ship around us, “but I didn’t want to be reassigned, no.”
“Mr. Dawes...” He hesitated. “I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
I shrugged but didn’t look at him.
“Would you like to be assigned back to the IIC?”
“Then you will be.” He started walking again, gesturing to me to accompany him. My stomach was jittery. I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. But he wasn’t reacting like an angry sovereign. He was acting like just another guy whose feelings were hurt.
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” I tried.
He turned to me. “Actually, you have no idea how much I appreciate your honesty.”
There was no reason for me to believe he was lying or just being diplomatic—and I couldn’t imagine why he would try to spare my feelings—but that didn’t make me feel much better. I was still on edge, certain I’d said far too much.