A frequent piece of advice writers get is to put ground under the feet of their characters. Yet, advice on how to do that is limited or confusing. Often taking the advice literally, writers attempt to make certain the reader knows where the character is physically. However, the phrase means more than what city or building they are in. It also means where this character is in relation to the objects in the room and other characters in the scene. It reveals who this person is.
Characters fit into a story, into a scene, like puzzle pieces. The right pieces make a complete picture. The wrong pieces can be confusing. To create a character that involves your reader in the story takes many unique pieces or layers. This article will touch on some of the different things you can do to put ground beneath your characters’ feet.
Making characters’ voices, or dialogue, as unique as the instruments in a symphony, helps the reader to identify with your characters. But the reader needs more. Every word in your story (or scene) comes from a specific point of view. Strengthen your story and put ground under your characters’ feet by choosing words that reflect what your character sees, senses, his values, judgments, and opinions.
George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked down the street.
That helps the reader see him, but it doesn’t put ground under George’s feet.
Keep it natural sounding. You don’t think: I, a 36-year-old, struggling writer with her deep brown hair tied in a messy bun, walked down the mud-streaked asphalt street, do you? Of course not.
I’m not saying don’t refer to your character by name. There are certain things you have to do, so your reader isn’t confused, especially at the beginning of a story. However, the larger percentage of your descriptions should be as your viewpoint character thinks of it. So instead of the staying outside of George, try to focus on the inner George:
George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked past his favorite coffee shop on his morning walk.
It’s time for sneak peek: If I Should Die Chapter 4. This is from book 2 in The Fellowship Dystopia Series (formerly called the My Soul to Keep series.) It’s the continuation of Miranda’s story, of her battle against oppression.
Miranda has built a successful Safe Harbor rescue system across the inland waters of the United States. Refugees from the religious oppression of the Fellowship find safety and freedom aboard the Safe Harbor boats. But now her brother needs rescued in order to complete his mission. She’s committed to helping him but she’s a peace-loving woman. Will she resort to violence and save lives or stick to her principles and sacrifice many?
Chapter One: Miranda pilots her yacht, the Lady Angelfish, up the Missouri River to rescue her brother, but the U.S. Coast Guard and a Second Sphere agent stop her for a “routine” inspection.
Chapter Two:Irene, Miranda’s sister, can’t believe she’s the wife of the newly appointed Prophet. Nor can she believe she’s at the White House sitting with President Joseph Kennedy Jr. But there are drawbacks to being the Prophet’s wife. When she’s offered a role in a new “secret” project, she’s more than intrigued.
Chapter Three: As a nighttime thunderstorm rages, Beryl tries to persuade Miranda to wait. But Miranda insists she must go ashore to find her brother. And since Beryl has sworn to protect Miranda, she must go too. But when they are attacked, Beryl’s hesitation to shoot endangers them.
Gusty wind snapped Miranda’s yellow rain slicker. She dropped the Lady’s bow anchors, then shut down the idling engine. Every muscle in her body protested. The fight against the storm had drained her.
The extra hour’s travel upstream had only taken the Lady six miles further northwest. The many rock jetties and snags made the Missouri’s normally strong current risky. Added debris from the storm filled the river with difficult-to-see mini-torpedos. It was unsafe to go further. At least during this stormy night.
She moved sternward, ready to climb into her cabin and sleep. She slid her hand on the cool, wet, safety rail along the top of the cabin. Another strong gust drove biting rain against her and the boat. Made her grateful for the safety rail. The rain-drenched walkway was slippery, even for deck shoes. She readjusted her hold on the safety rail and worked her way to the Lady’s galley doors.
Another gust blew the galley door open quicker than she expected. She stepped inside and shouldered the door shut, latched it against the wind. The ship pitched but her sea legs carried her to the passageway without a problem. Hung her slicker in the locker then returned to the galley stove.
The mouthwatering aroma of beef stew filled the galley. Wanda must have reheated it for David and his refugee. Miranda grinned. She’d hired her newest crew member for her mechanical skills, unaware of her other talent.
A steaming kettle sat on the back burner. Bless you, Wanda.
Tea bag steeping in her mugful of hot water, Miranda entered the crowded salon. It seemed that no one wanted to sleep after the events of the day.
Beryl sat on the salon’s velvet-cushioned settee on the starboard side of the salon against the aft wall. Across the aisle, Wanda perched on the captain’s chair at the lower helm’s console. They looked as tired as the ache in Miranda’s bones said she was.
David and his refugee, Leslie, sat at the gleaming Brazilian Rosewood table. Their backs to the closed pass-through to the galley. They looked up at her from their bowls of stew.
David stood, scooted around the table, and wrapped her in a bear hug. He had cleaned up, dried and combed his hair. His borrowed jeans and blue plaid shirt deepened the blue of his gray-blue eyes. Not clothes her brother would have worn as the son of a Counselor, but the kind of clothes refugees and rebels wore. Jaw covered with stubble, his once pleasantly filled-out face had new lines and edges since she’d last seen him. That had been nearly a year ago.
“It’s good to see you, David.” Miranda said, deep inside longing for better days ached.
“I’m glad to see you, too.” His voice, his face, and his eyes held more than a trace of weariness.
Miranda’s throat tightened. “Sit back down. Finish your stew.” The Fellowship, the violence—its shadow—took a heavy toll on everyone. Now it lived in her little brother’s eyes.
He released her, smiled, then slid back to his place at the table. Spoons clanked and scraped the sides of the bowls in accompaniment to the drum of rain on the windows.
Sneak Peek, If I Should Die, Chapter Four is a portion of my latest work-in-progress, meaning it’s an early draft. It has not had the final edits and polish that the published version will have. Some things may end up on the “editing floor” and not appear in the book at all. Here on my website, these sneak peeks are brief. If you missed the earlier sneak peeks, you can catch up. Check out the book page.
If you have the time, you might prefer to watch and listen to me read the entire chapter. The video of Chapter One is twenty-three minutes long and Chapter Two is about sixteen minutes in duration.
I hope you enjoyed this Sneak Peek: If I Should Die, Chapter Four. Videos of Chapters Three and Four are still in production–I’m getting on top of the learning curve, but it’s a process. lol Fingers-crossed, I’ll have the videos caught up by the end of next week, but don’t hold your breath! I hope your travels through this pandemic life we have going on are as smooth and as healthy as can be. And that you’ll join me next Friday, when I post Chapter Five on this website.