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Fine Tuning Your Manuscript – Part Three

Engage Your Characters in Their Setting

How to make your characters engage and interact in their surroundings and create real a world setting in your book.

When you’re characters interact through dialogue, make them interact as well with their surroundings.

There should be a continual interplay of character and setting. Examine your dialogue sections to ensure they don’t just take place in a vacuum.

What are your characters holding in their hands?

If they’re not holding anything, put something in them. Like a fork, a cigarette, a drink, a pen.

Something to remind the reader your characters are in a real world.

What do your characters smell like?

What does their environment smell like?

Does one of your characters wear too much cheap cologne? Do their clothes smell like cigarette smoke? Do they have the smell of cheap whiskey on their breath?

Maybe one of them hasn’t bathed in weeks.

Make them smell like it.

What does the air smell like? Fresh grass? Fresh-cut hay?

Diesel exhaust? Make it smell like something, if you haven’t already.

Now explain what it is your characters are hearing.

Every environment has ambient noise. If you’re in the country, it might be a train rumbling along the tracks, blowing its whistle, a rooster crowing, a tractor, or the mooing of cows.

If you’re in the city, it might be the sounds of a traffic jam, horns honking, a policeman blowing his whistle, or a jackhammer.

Remember, your characters are moving through a world of five senses, not just the usual two – hearing and seeing – that most authors don’t bother to describe.

There’s so much to consider, and often as writers we neglect to stop to think about the endless possibilities we are presented with by the world around us.


These things take time and effort.

Details.

You can if you like – as I do – save these details until you’re writing your third, fourth, or even tenth draft.

But if you want your writing to stand out, you must confront the fact that such detail is difficult, tedious, and time consuming. If you want to do it right, you must focus, concentrate, and think about what’s in the world around your characters on each and every page.

Think of all the things your characters might be doing when they’re interacting with each other.

Make a list if you want to.

  1. washing the car
  2. watering their
  3. houseplants
  4. doing a crossword
  5. playing a video game on
  6. their cell phone
  7. making a sandwich

The list is endless.

Have fun with it, it’s not complicated.

The point is that people are almost always doing something, even if it’s simply sitting in a chair with their feet propped up.

Last but not least, I end with the beginning.

Does your story grab the reader on page one?

Or at least by page five?

If the fish that takes a lure into its mouth doesn’t like the taste of that lure, it will spit it out before you have a chance to set the hook.

You must therefore set the hook while the lure is still in the fish’s mouth.

You must hook the reader while you’ve got his attention – at the very beginning.

How to make the most of setting details in your manuscript and bring your character's world to life in your novel.

Obviously, this is not always an easy task. Some stories simply do not lend themselves to a lightning-fast start. Some preparation, some setting up is necessary. But somewhere early on, try to pose a question, present a conflict.

And if possible, force the reader to answer the question you propose to them.

And how do they find the answer?

They turn the page.

Make your reader sit up and say, “Oh wow! No way! How on earth?!!”

If you create tension and conflict as soon as possible, you’ll hook your reader.

Hook your reader, and you’ve won.

I read somewhere recently that the primary job of an author is to make the reader want to know and care what happens next.

So if your reader doesn’t want to know, or doesn’t care what happens next, you have failed as a writer.


Words of wisdom.


And words to live by as a writer.

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