Tag Archives: character

Glints of Light on Broken Glass: the Art of Showing in Writing

Some of the first things new writers are told is to write what you know, and to show, and not tell. Russian playwright and author Anton Checkhov is credited with having said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” underscoring the latter. Showing can be a powerful tool when used with discretion, but all too often new authors forget to do this, preferring instead to paint their word pictures with broad strokes rather than choose a finer brush.

I’ve often written about how writing is a construct, something artificial made to seem real. Everything authors do, from creating and recreating setting, penning plot, and/or developing character and dialogue is not real. Everything about any given scene is there for a purpose; the trick is to add them subtly so they seem happenstance .

One mistake many new authors make is in how to express the physical appearance of a character. Having the character stand in front of a mirror and take stock, making note of his or her own hair and eye colour, and the shape of his or her jaw, lips, and nose doesn’t work. How many times have you looked in the mirror and taken stock? When I look in the mirror, the bow of my eyebrow is only important to me if it’s time to get a waxing. I notice my eye colour if my clothes make them pop. I may make note of my hair colour, but only if it’s time for a dye job.

Here’s another mistake. When I flip my hair back from my face, I don’t think that my hair is brown with red highlights as I’m doing so. I might be cognizant of the fact that I’m flipping too many times in a day and am due for a cut. I might get frustrated and sweep it back into a ponytail, but I don’t take note of the colour. Your characters shouldn’t either.

When you get into your car to go to work in the morning, do you take time to contemplate that it’s a 2010 slate grey, four-door Toyota Camry?  Isn’t it more likely you might think that it’s a beater, or that it’s nearly half-a-decade old and still looks like new? Might you think it needs a wash? Would you rub at a patch of dirt to make sure it wasn’t a scratch? Be annoyed that the neighbourhood kids wrote “Wash Me!” with their finger on the trunk again?

If I describe the car, my reader will know a lot about the make and model of the car, but little about the driver. If I get into the driver’s head and show what he’s thinking, I’m building character. If my reader drives a middle-age Camry, s/he might find a small point of identification with my character. If I show my character as either taking pride in the car or neglecting it, I’ve given my reader a more precise point of connection.

The next time you show detail, consider narrative viewpoint. If you describe something your character wouldn’t normally see, think or hear, then change tack.  For example, if I smile, I can’t see my white teeth gleam in the sunlight. I might feel my cheeks ache, the cold air I let in when I part my lips might hurt my overly-sensitive teeth, or I can imagine I must look like a grinning idiot (but I can’t know for sure).

Never forget your job as a writer is to construct an immersive version of reality.   Paint your word pictures with fine detail, and texture with character, dialogue and setting, using only the palette colours limited by your narrative point of view.

Have you noticed these errors in the books you’re reading? Maybe you’ve made some of these errors yourself? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Meet the Revenant

"The Revenant" Cover Image

“The Revenant” Cover Image

My name is Zulu.

I died when I was thrown from a horse on my way to elope with my girl. Then I woke up. I haven’t aged a day since. Before long I realized I had super powers–incredible speed, perfect vision, and miraculous strength. My only companion for more than a century has been Morgan the Seer, an old man who can see the future. He tells me what he sees in his dreams and I help the people he sees. The media’s pegged me a vigilante, but I’m really more of a superhero, keeping the city safe from evil under the cover of the night.

[Tweet “Zulu doesn’t eat or get cold & if he avoids a wooden stake in the chest, he’ll keep living.”]

My name is Kat.

I like to talk. In fact, my mom? She says I talk too much and she named me Katherine because I reminded her of a Chatty Cathy doll. I tried to tell her that she wouldn’t know I was so chatty when she named me because I was still a baby and couldn’t talk at all. Zulu? He’s a revenant, which is different from a vampire, but I’m not exactly sure how except vampires drink blood and so far Zulu hasn’t. He found me after school one day and recruited me to help him and the Seer, who I think is like his father, but is more the age of his grandfather, and considering what I know of his history, isn’t even really related to him at all. Oh! Did I mention I see auras? I can also sense what people are feeling, which is probably why the Seer recruited me to help him and Zulu save people. Anyway, since I joined them I’m happy, you know? Because I finally feel like I belong somewhere, and they don’t look at me like I’m strange or something, because let’s face it, alongside a man who’s lived as long as the Seer and someone who’s immortal because he returned from the grave, I’m like…normal.

[Tweet ” Kat is full of life, youthful and sometimes just a little naïve about evil.”]

My name is Morgan.

I first learned of my ability to see the future when I was a boy and I saw the livery stable burn to the ground. I tried to warn the groom but he wouldn’t listen. I’ve spent the past hundred years recording my dreams in a journal until the timing’s right for me to send Zulu and Kat to help some poor soul escape certain danger. In my time I’ve seen many changes. For example, it used to take a week or more for news to travel. Now we see it as it’s happening and people walk around with cameras on their person, recording the minutia of every second of their lives–it’s maddening! But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. Though I can see the fate of others, I’m unable to see my own. Considering my twin brother, Malchus, has found a way to return from the grave and he blames me for his death, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

[Tweet “Morgan has made his path in life, trusting himself  and his judgement.”]

My name is Malchus.

Morgan is my twin brother. Growing up, my parents had high hopes for me. I apprenticed with Dr. Algernon while my dolt of a brother was relegated to farm duties. Algernon taught me more than the Healing Arts. He also taught me how to raise the dead, something my close-minded brother couldn’t comprehend. When a bunch of idiot high school kids got in over their heads with a Ouija board I slipped into one of their bodies. My plan is simple: seek revenge on my brother, who I know had a hand in my death. The only obstacle to my success is my rusty necromancing skill. If I can only recall the process to properly raise people from the dead, I will amass an army of minions to help me and the world will bow at my feet!

[Tweet “Malchus is the is the poster child for why you shouldn’t give in to peer pressure.”]

Which character from The Revenant are you? Take the quiz at http://gotoquiz.com/YRhrX to find out! Don’t forget to come back to post in the comments below.

Please note: Character bios were originally published as a part of my Bit’n Book Tour on 4 Sept 14 on The Fire & Ice Book Review Blog. 

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter Y




is for Young Adult




Young adult (YA) novels are novels that appeal to adolescents and teenagers. In YA the main character is usually a pre-teen or teen and theme is often emphasized over the more traditional elements of storytelling such as plot and character. I’ve recently begun my foray into YA novel writing, with the soon to be released The Revenant and next year’s release (hopefully) of I am, Was, Will be Alice.

YA novels are usually subdivided into 3 genres, middle-grade (10 – 13ish), true YA (14ish to 18 or so) and new adult (19+). Most of the time the main character is the same age as the target audience.

The actual target audience of YA is hard to gauge as, quite often, adults enjoy these novels, too. This accounts for the popularity of such blockbuster series as Twilight or Harry Potter.

Do you read YA? Do you purposely seek out YA or do you read a book if it appeals to you regardless of it’s intended audience. Post your opinion of YA novels in the comments below.



Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter J




is for Juxtaposition




Juxtaposition is when two opposing and parallel characters, plot lines, images or themes are compared for the purpose of “etching out a character in detail, creating suspense or lending a rhetorical effect” (Literary Devices).

In The Revenant, Zulu fancies himself a modern-day superhero. The narrator draws this comparison using juxtaposition. Here’s an example:

Zulu used his super sense of sight to hone in on the man’s eyes, forehead, and nose bridge…Faster than a speeding bullet—and Zulu would have to be faster, given his distance from the man in the suit and the man’s distance from the advancing projectile—Zulu knocked the man from his feet…More powerful than a locomotive, he pulled the weapon from the man’s grip, bowed the shaft, and used the butt to shatter the window.

In this example, words from the opening narrative of the old “Superman” television series are used (“faster than a speeding bullet…more powerful than a locomotive”) to draw the comparison between Zulu’s powers and those of Superman. The comparison to Superman’s sense of sight, while not in the traditional narrative, are nevertheless well-known traits of the Superman archetype.

In a recent episode of “Revolution”, Sebastian Monroe was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Tom Neville. Scenes of this were interspersed with a simultaneous hand-to-hand combat scene between their sons, Connor and Jason. This is juxtaposed against a similar scene between “Bass” and Connor when they were pitted against each other in a fight to the death the week before.

Can you think of any juxtapositions that stand out in your mind? What were they? Did you make the connection between the two events? Did they bring another level of meaning to the story? Share your thoughts on juxtaposition below.

Literature is a Construct of Reality

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been all but consumed with a grade 11 English course I’ve been teaching through eLearning. While teaching, a lot of time was spent on symbolism. Students find it difficult to understand that novels are not real life – they are constructions of real life, which means that everything in everything you read is there for a reason. Case in point are characters.

Characters are not real people. They are given desires, physical characteristics and relationships just like people, but they do not develop as a result of natural elements in combination with the nurturing environments in which they are raised. In my class, we discussed “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen. In the play, Nora is a typical Victorian trophy wife with a twist – she’s unhappy with looking pretty and doing what’s expected by the men in her life; Nora wants something more. Were many women in Nora’s position unhappy in their lives, want to own their own property, make their own decisions, have the vote? Most definitely. Did many of them leave their husbands and children to try to have their fantasy lives on their own? Probably not. Nora is a construct in that she proves Ibsen’s point that women should want something more for themselves, and that they should make that desire known.

Likewise, Torvald is a construct of the typical Victorian man. He does not verbally abuse Nora with his condescending names, and by treating her like a child as this was the way he was raised to treat women. By law, women were infantilized. Like children are often treated as the property of their parents, women were first the property of their fathers and then of their husbands. Torvald works hard to keep Nora in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. He gives her money when she asks though he teases her about it and asks her not to eat macaroons because they didn’t have the dentistry to repair rotten teeth we do today and it would have been expensive and ugly. When Nora comes clean about Krogstad, he reacts as most men would, I think, worried about what it meant for him. Given time, Torvald might have come around, because, at his core, he does think he loves Nora and is petrified at a life without her, but Nora doesn’t give him the chance to have time to think and formulate a plan as she has, for she leaves immediately after dropping the Krogstad bomb.

Funny they way how these blogposts evolve, isn’t it? I hadn’t meant to write so much about “A Doll’s House”, but I guess I had a lot to say. I’ll save my construct analysis of a character for the next post.

Graphic from www.cityweekly.net

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!