Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Here is a random portion of a scene from the novel I wrote as a teen. It lacks what I like to call texture and dimension. If this story was a painting, it would be the outline of a figure. There would be no depth or shadow. There would be nothing eye-catching or popping from the picture. It would be flat and dull. But as an artist, I would add color. Paint the fabric of the figure’s clothing, a satin trimmed blouse, wool skirt. I’d develop the features, shading around the eyes. Add a glint to the irises. You’d see what this figure was meant to be, and understand what the character is feeling from her expression. You’d understand who she was by what she wore and how she wore those clothes. The art in literature is the same. So here is what I mean:
Miss Daniels brought Rellie into a dimly lit room and talked to her.
Rellie didn’t want to talk herself.
“Oh, come on Rellie. I’m your friend. I want to help you.”
“I don’t have any friends.” Rellie answered. “All you want to do is get paid for your job.”
“Now that’s not true.” Miss Daniels smiled.
“Okay.” Rellie answered.
“Okay? What is okay?”
“You can say all you want. I don’t have to trust you or believe you…or even listen to you.” Rellie scowled.
“Would you care to take a nap?”
Yikes! Horrible writing AND the teacher sounds like a pedophile. Not really sure what that was about. Plus, I really hate Rellie. She sounds like a brat. Problem is, she’s my main character. You can’t have your main character be so unlikable. Who will care enough about him or her to read on? Okay, here’s how I would make changes:
Miss Daniels stuck her head into my art class while I was drawing circle after circle in my sketchbook. I pretended not to see her.
“Mr. Langilotti?” she said loud enough for everyone in the next four classrooms to hear. “Rellie forgot she has an appointment with me.”
Forgot. Right. The same way I forgot to hand in my math homework. Or forgot to say the Pledge of Allegiance this morning.
“Ah. Rellie? Why don’t you clean up now.” He glanced down at my sketchbook. “You can work on that next time.”
Yes. Drawing circles takes a lot of effort. I shut my book and tucked my pencil into my backpack. I felt every pair of eyes stick into my back like shurikens, those ninja stars in my favorite DS game. Stop staring at me, I wanted to say. But me and my mouth have an agreement. I don’t talk, and it doesn’t get me into trouble.
I followed Miss Daniels into the hallway. She reeked of onions and cigarettes, a combination that had my stomach roiling. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in her tiny office with that stench. What if it made me throw up? What if I barfed right on her desk, all over the file folder she had on me, filled with lies and rumors that deserved to be destroyed anyway.
I forced myself to swallow a laugh. A laugh that was a little too close to crying.
Her office door was already open, and she waved me inside. I perched on the edge of a hard plastic chair, and she took the plush chair behind her desk. Clasping her hands on the blotter, she said softly, “I heard you had a problem at school yesterday.”
The chair cut into my thighs. I tried to shift to a more comfortable position, but there didn’t seem to be any. “What’d you hear?”
Okay, I’ll stop right there because you get the point. I added texture with the sound of Miss Daniel’s voice, the way she smelled, the intangible feeling of students’ eyes on Rellie’s back and the tangible feeling of the hard, plastic chair she sits in. The chair represents how uncomfortable Rellie feels, so I’m adding dimension. The circles she draws on the paper over and over symbolizes how she feels about her life. We know that she can be a smart-mouth, hence the “deal” she has with herself. We also know she’s sarcastic, and feels out of place. Hopefully she’s more likable, though, because we also feel her anger and sadness, which is so mixed together, she hardly knows which one to trust. All this, in just a tiny half-scene. How did I do it? I added texture and dimension.
Pick a scene from one of your works in progress. Add in at least three of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, or sound. Mirror how your character feels with at least one of these senses. Give us an aspect of the character’s personality through one of these senses. Try this and see if it doesn’t paint a clearer picture. Next time, I will discuss action/reaction and how it drives a plot forward.