Monday, May 07, 2012

Get Your Head in the Game: How Character Moods Affect the Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Knowing where your characters are emotionally is a critical aspect of understanding that character. It's what gives them the depth to make them feel real, and not just two dimensional cut outs. If you've ever gotten a critique back that said "the characters just didn't feel real to me," chances are this emotional level is missing, or it's not as developed as it could be.

No one has just one thing on their mental To-Do List. Think about your own day. You get up, you have things to do, you have things you want to do if you can. You feel a certain way, and that will affect everything else you do and how you do it. Wake up in a bad mood, and all those little things that need doing suddenly become huge irritants in your day. Wake up smiling and happy, and you're doing things you might not have done otherwise.

Characters are no different. Their emotions play a role in what they do and how they do it. And emotions fluctuate. We've all been in bad moods, and had days when we couldn't stop grinning.

Where is their head at?
When you start your scene, think about the head spaces of the characters. Are they happy, sad, angry, scared? They'll have a scene goal telling them what to do, but that's just plot. What are they trying to do from an emotional level? Survive? Fake being happy? Get through the day? Shout to the world how much in love they are?

And not just your protagonist, but all the characters in the room, because they'll react differently based on their moods as well. Ask yourself what kind of mood did they wake up in, and has that mood changed over the course of the day. Their moods will likely be based on what's happened to them recently and what's piling up on their shoulders. Once you know that, it makes it easier to know how they'd react to the stuff you throw at them.

Extra tip: If you have a scene that's not working, try changing the emotional state of your protagonist. How might they approach things if they were in a totally different mood? Try it with the other characters in the scene as well. 

They can still do what plot tells them to do, but how they do it might change based on their mood. And that can add a whole new layer to your story.

Do you think about your character's mood when you write their scenes? 

Find out more about setting and description in my book, Fixing Your Setting & Description Problems.

Go step-by-step through setting and description-related issues, such as weak world building, heavy infodumping, told prose, awkward stage direction, inconsistent tone and mood, and overwritten descriptions. Learn how to analyze your draft, spot any problems or weak areas, and fix those problems.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Fixing Your Setting & Description Problems offers five self-guided workshops that target the common issues that make readers stop reading. It will help you:
  • Choose the right details to bring your setting and world to life
  • Craft strong descriptions without overwriting
  • Determine the right way to include information without infodumping
  • Create compelling emotional layers that reflect the tone and mood of your scenes
  • Fix awkward stage direction and unclear character actions
Fixing Setting & Description Problems starts every workshop with an analysis to pinpoint problem areas and offers multiple revision options in each area. You choose the options that best fit your writing process. It's an easy-to-follow guide to crafting immersive settings and worlds that draw readers into your story and keep them there.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Wow! I'm really having issues with posting comments lately. Anyway, thank you for sharing this. I've been thinking about where to begin my second book and have been struggling. I can come at it now with fresh perspective. Not just starting with conflict, but where it feels right to start it. I've been trying to force it. Anyway, thank you!

  2. Your writing tips/advice is always fantastic and helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    I'm working on a rewrite/2nd draft of my book, and one of my MCs turned out to be completely different than I originally thought. She was bubbly all the time, and it turns out she's actually rather formal and aloof until you get to know her. Funny how characters work, isn't it?

  3. *blinks*

    That's why some scenes flow so much more easily than others!

    Thanks! ^_^

  4. Oh, this is so timely, I'm just giddy! Thanks for the added perspective. :)

  5. Just what I needed to hear today. Thanks!