December 2, 2009

Donita K. Paul: What are They Thinking?

After being away from my ‘Write Like the Pros’ series for a long time, I’m finally back with the next installment – Donita K. Paul.

A couple of years ago I bought the book Dragonspell for my younger brother for Christmas. Since the book was the first in a series, I figured that I had the next year’s birthday and Christmas lined out as far as Caleb was concerned. Wrong. He went out and bought the rest of the series himself. For months all I heard about was “Kale this, Dar that, Fenworth something else…” To hear Caleb talk you’d have thought they were real people.

When I started reading the books for myself, I realized that they almost were real people! I felt like I knew them – especially the main viewpoint character Kale. I knew how she would react to a situation before she reacted. I knew how she would feel about a given person or event before she expressed her feelings.

So how did Mrs. Paul pull that off? By showing the reader the character’s thoughts.

Read Mrs. Paul’s books and you’ll find them loaded with character’s mental decision-making processes, inner struggles, and unspoken opinions. This offers the reader a tremendous amount of insight into who the character really is and gives them the sense that they really know them.

Think of it this way: when you meet someone for the first time, naturally you start with the conversational basics (where are you from, where do you work, what are you studying, etc.). But then you start moving towards learning their opinions and thoughts on a very casual level (what kind of movies do you like, what do you do in your spare time…). Once you get past the ‘stranger’ stage and begin to get more comfortable with the person, you start asking deeper, more ‘thoughtful’ questions (what are your religious beliefs, political views, dreams, personal goals, and so forth). Then you move on to questions regarding current events (the political race, the concert, the terrorist attack, the tornado).

As you learn a person’s thoughts on certain issues, you will be able to determine, at least to some extent, their thoughts on other issues. For instance, I am a conservative Republican and a Christian – that should give you some idea of where I stand on issues such as abortion and cloning.

This is what it means to really know a person. When you can predict their (thoughts, opinion, reaction) regarding an issue or circumstance, and do it with at least moderate accuracy, you know – really know – them.

And this is part of what makes Donita K. Paul’s characters so lifelike, so personal – she writes their thoughts! We know what they’re thinking. We know that even though Kale adores Paladin and truly wants to serve him, she still struggles with feeling unsuited and unworthy. We know that even though Kale has great respect and admiration for Wizard Fenworth’s wisdom, she still gets frustrated with his forgetfulness and painfully long thinking spells.

We know Kale because we know her thoughts. We know what she thinks. We know how she thinks. And we care about her because she feels like a friend.

I know that my own writing is sadly lacking insight into my characters’ thoughts, and I’m sure many of us can afford to put more character thought into our fiction. It can be tough, and it requires a great amount of preliminary character development, but just read Donita K. Paul’s work and you’ll see – the result is worth it!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for mentioning The Dragon Keeper Chronicles. I agree with your lesson point as well. I prefer to spend time with friends I know well, and I think readers, after investing hours of reading time, ought to know the characters well enough to spend even more time with them.


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