Hearing the Heartbeat of Your Story is Essential for Realism

Dancers have to feel and express the rhythm of the music in order to interpret it correctly and thus deliver a convincing performance the audience can FEEL and experience with them!!

Dancers have to feel and express the rhythm of the music in order to interpret it correctly and thus deliver a convincing performance the audience can FEEL and experience with them!!

We’ve all experienced it: We get a great idea for a story, and then we begin writing it down. Is it that simple? Yes and no.

Anyone can get a great idea – a twist on a classic or a recent movie or a song – because they’re all out there for the taking. So, what turns a great idea into a masterpiece? Right from the very beginning, as the words take form and the outline reveals itself, you must find the unique heartbeat, the specific tonality, the feel of the tale that separates it from every other story out there. And to hear that singular ‘voice’ speaking to you from wherever you believe stories come, you need to have the ability to listen, then recognise it, then express it in words.

It has been proven time and time again that if a group of say twenty kids get given the same sentence with which to begin their story you will invariably end up with twenty different stories. But the one that gets the A+ is the one that went outside the box and found a place so different from where convention dwells that the reader (in this case, the teacher) is blown away and immediately identifies the unusual/unique potential of that student. It’s not that the student had any special educational advantage over her peers, it’s rather that she lives her life by exploring the unconventional and opens her mind to things that most kids do not. The dreamers, the inventors, the ones that usually get into trouble for not concentrating in class – those are the kids the innovators of the world should be paying attention to and helping them expand those gloriously open, unfettered minds.

There are no limits to the imagination!

There are no limits to the imagination!

A great tool to use when writing – and this is fantastic if ever you find yourself stuck for an idea – is to ask: “What if?” What if the laws of nature didn’t apply to this character or this situation? What if there were no morals or ethics binding a character to act a certain way? What if reality wasn’t reality but mere illusion? What if the impossible was possible?

Many writers would say that getting to know your characters as if they were your best friends helps to make the story more real even if they’re writing about fantasy or the paranormal or science fiction. To imagine themselves where the characters are, to get in on the conversation and feel and hear what each unique personality is saying, lends greater passion and realism to a scene, even if they’re talking about swords and sorcery.

Every story has its own rhythm. Every character has his or her unique style and personality. But to get all this to a place of realism you need to live your story through every word and action. Place yourself in their position – the good and the evil characters – and try to understand them as though they were you. ‘See’ how they move and ‘hear’ how they speak (the inflections and nuances in their voices – including what they’re thinking), the way their faces move, the way their bodies move, and, of course, every single emotion they experience, whether expressed in the scene or secretly thought and felt. If they are angry you must feel angry. If they are upset or weeping then you must share in it with them, for if you can experience it all then your reader will, too!

There's great magic in realism!

There’s great magic in realism!

When writing in the same genre there is a danger that an author can end up having books with similar characters who have similar behaviours and find themselves in similar situations. I find this happening even among the greatest authors of our day. Their stories are all different, but I sometimes have a sense of knowing a character too well like I’ve met them before, and then I realise they’re a lot like another character in another book by the same author! It never fails to disappoint.

Have you written many books? If so, have you made sure that each new story has its own voice, its own heartbeat?

I urge you to spend time getting to know your new characters intimately, giving them their own existence, and making sure they don’t have a clone lurking around somewhere in another book. Take the time to make them unique, from their looks to the way they speak and act and interact with the other characters, because, believe me, your reader will pick up on a fake character just like they pick up on a fake actor who has not immersed herself in her role. It’s painful and distracting and makes the viewer want to stop watching because it’s impossible to get totally absorbed in the story when it feels unrealistic or fake.

Surrender to the power of the tale and allow it to direct you instead of the other way round! This is a quote from a friend on Facebook that is just perfect for what I have spoken about today: “Authors do not create characters. We open our minds to the unknown worlds and allow them to tell us their stories through these unseen doors. Then we write it all down for those who do not have the ability to open the doors on their own.” ~ Beth Fullaway

I love hearing your thoughts! Tell me about your experiences as a writer and creator of unique tales, and if you struggle – or don’t – with bringing your characters to life in a way that makes them as real as possible!

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About SwordBearer

I am a fantasy and science fiction author. I have published three epic fantasy novels in a tetralogy with Xlibris Publishing, and a sci-fi short story, The Door. All are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major online retailers. The Door is also available on Smashwords. I love reading everything from King to Koontz, Cussler to Brooks and Feist, to name but a few. Before writing became my life I was a professional ballet, jazz/contemporary dancer in South Africa. Writing and storytelling have always been passions since childhood, and I want to share them with the world!!

Posted on August 3, 2013, in Writing Tips and Tools and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Monique, this shows real insight into fiction writing, character building, tone setting…all of it. Personally, I like to go back and name afterward–when the characters themselves have shown me their names–and also, modify voice characteristics at that point, too. Go through by individual character and make sure i don’t break with the distinct voice each has.

    Great tips!

    Like

    • Thanks, Karen. I appreciate what you said. That’s a very interesting approach you take to your characters. I love that you associate distinct voice characteristics to them. That’s a lot more intimate. I will definitely be keeping that in mind whenever I write now.

      And don’t you just love it when your characters name themselves!? When I think of my characters they cannot have any other names than the ones they do 🙂

      Like

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