I have Margie Lawson to thank (yet again), for this one. She calls it, ‘being true to the character’s emotional set’. I call it, ‘be the dude’. It’s a nickname for being in the character, so they’re reacting appropriately. It’s key to writing in deep POV.
It can be as obvious as:
- A woman going from tears to laughter in a paragraph
- A fight scene where a guy just got kicked in the …um…’package’, grunts, gets up and fights on (don’t you hate movies like that? And why did Bruce Willis star in so many?)
- A teen that speaks like an adult, or a professor that speaks like a teen
These are things that will pry a reader away from your page. Why? Because readers are smart. They understand human nature, and instinctively know when something isn’t ‘real’.
We all know not to do the above examples, but it can be much subtler than that. So subtle that even the most seasoned authors may not catch it. The readers may not catch it consciously, but have too much of this, and trust me, their subconscious will eventually make them put the book down.
I see this problem most often in action scenes. Say you’re walking on a path in the woods, and you hear rustling. A black bear steps out of the underbrush, fifteen feet ahead of you. What goes on in your mind? (I don’t want to know what’s going on in your pants!) My guess is, you’re panicking. You’re shooting glances at the trees (do black bears climb?). You’re wondering if waving your arms to make yourself bigger is an old wives tale. You’re wondering if you can run faster than your friend beside to you. Right?
What you’re not doing: having a long conversation with yourself, or your friend. Remembering Goldilocks and the Three Bears story. Thinking about the argument you had with your boyfriend.
Your thoughts will be choppy, flying fast. Any dialog will likewise be broken and choppy.
The good news? This not only is realistic, but it speeds up the read, which ups the tension in the scene, and the reader! Win-win.
You may be a veteran author, and think, Well, I’d never do that.
Well, I did. Recently, too.
This is the original beginning for my work in progress. The character introduced here is a Molecular Biologist, at the end of his career. I went to a Margie Lawson, one-on-one session, convinced that this time, she’d think it was good, just as it stood.
Roger – before
I knowing the exact time and place of my death exhilarating. It’s as if, all my life, in some primordial, subliminal part of my brain, I wondered: Is today the day? Is a lump growing, even now? Has the bus that will hit me, just left the station? Those questions are behind me now. Maybe that’s why I feel lighter today. Stronger.
Leading the pace line, I pump my way up the hill, breathing hard, but with no weakness or cramping. The sun burns through
my thin jersey and sweat from my forehead drips onto the handlebars. I welcome it. Such a normal, everyday thing. Who knows if I’ll feel it again?
Will Jo and my daughter stay in touch after I’m gone? Reality chuckles in my ear. I have no doubt Jo will try. But Bee . . . is Bee. A protective momma-bear to those she loves, suspicious of all outside the circle. And she’s spent years guarding the gate, making sure Jo stayed outside. Some things can be mended, but some are irrevocably broken. Unfixable.
Bee wasn’t always that way, but losing her mother at such a young age scratched deep gouges in her psyche. She grips those she needs tightly, as if by sheer will she can snatch them back from disaster. She doesn’t realize that grip can be suffocating, and have an equal and opposite reaction in the one being squeezed. When the kids get to be teenagers, she’ll learn. I’m sorry I won’t get to see that. I think I’d enjoy it quite a bit.
Near the crest of the hill, Pete passes me, panting, but still smiling. “Thanks for the pull, Dude.”
I flip him the bird and pedal on.
Jo is somewhere in the pack behind-hopefully dropped and falling back. I still can’t imagine being anywhere that Jo isn’t, but death doesn’t care about that. This is going to be hell on Joan. She’s going to be angry with me, possibly for a long time. I snort a laugh. Who am I kidding? Jo will never forgive my treason. She’ll see my leaving her behind as the ultimate betrayal. We’d planned to die together in our sleep, at some unspecified, but very ancient age. Our friends call us ‘soul mates’. Such a flippant new age-y term to explain something there aren’t words for. My heart pinches, but not from exertion. For twenty years, Jo and I have existed in a self-contained bubble, thriving on simply breathing each other in, and out. She’ll have to learn to breathe on her own again.
Not that I have any doubt that she will. Jo is indomitable. A scrapper.
I’d very much like to see that, too, but I don’t believe I will. I leave theological certainty to Bee.
I crest the hill, the freehub ratchet clicking faster as I pick up speed. My heart rate kicks up as I realize how close I am. What have I forgotten? I’ve been over every detail, every policy, every eventuality. There’s nothing left to do.
I’m flying down, keeping pace with the cars, heart soaring, sucking in deep lungfuls of Austin morning fresh air.
Pete waits at the intersection, for the group to catch up.
Keeping my fingers off the brakes, I shoot past him, against the light.
I love you always Joa-
Not bad, right? The man shown appears to be thoughtful, educated – in keeping with his career.
Except for one thing that Margie pointed out.
He’s riding to his DEATH!
If you know you’re going to die, you’re frightened, second-guessing, panicking. Your thoughts would be broken, and details would be a blur.
Duh. Man, did I feel stupid.
Here’s how it changed.
Today, death rides a bicycle. My bicycle.
Leading the Saturday morning ride, I pump my way up the hill, standing on the pedals, breathing hard. My legs are still working, still strong.
Sun burns through my jersey. Sweat drips onto the handlebars. Such everyday-taken-for-granted things, but not today. Knowing I have only minutes to live have made them precious. Glorious.
Will Jo and my daughter stay in touch after I’m gone? I have no doubt Jo will try. But Bee . . . is Bee. She’s spent years guarding the gate, keeping her stepmother out. Some things can be mended, but some are forever broken. Unfixable.
Near the crest of the hill, Pete passes me, panting, but still smiling. “Thanks for the pull, Professor Pud.”
I flip him the bird then kick it. In twenty yards I’ve gained a bike length on him. Reaching the top first is a very serious game we play. Played.
Jo is somewhere in the pack behind me-hopefully dropped and falling back. I still can’t imagine being anywhere that she isn’t, but death doesn’t care. I stand on the pedals to crank harder. Jo will never forgive me. My heart tugs, but not from the exertion. For twenty years, Jo and I have lived in a bubble, breathing each other in, and out.
She’ll have to learn to breathe on her own again.
Still in the lead, I crest the hill, my bike’s freehub ratchet clicking faster and faster. I’m close. My heart rate kicks up. What have I forgotten? Details I’ve been over and over. There’s nothing left to do, except . . . this.
We’re flying down, pacing the cars. Every Saturday, I have a second of sadness at the hill’s end. Freedom whistles past my ears. This time I don’t have to brake.
Pete does. He falls back. “Hey, Pud! Brake! Brake!” Then he’s gone, one more, left behind.
I flick a glance at the Garmin—thirty mph. It’s time. Fear roars. I lock my fingers on the bars, willing them not to move. “No brake, no brake, no brake!” The bike shimmies, on the edge of control. I slam my eyes shut. A gust of elation pushes me across the finish line. I shoot into the intersection, against the light.
I love you Joan. Forev-
Better? More powerful? I think so.
Don’t ever forget, ‘BE the dude’
Have you ever forgotten to Be the Dude? Have you ever read a published book guilty of this mistake?
Shared blood defines a family, but spilled blood can too.
Harlie Cooper raised her sister, Angel, even before their mother died. When their guardian is killed in a fire, rather than be separated by Social Services, they run. Life in off the grid in L.A. isn’t easy, but worse, there’s something wrong with Angel.
Harlie walks in to find their apartment scattered with shattered and glass and Angel, a bloody rag doll in a corner. The doctor orders institutionalization in a state facility. Harlie’s not leaving her sister in that human warehouse. But something better takes money. Lots of it.
When a rep from the Pro Bull Riding Circuit suggests she train as a bullfighter, rescuing downed cowboys from their rampaging charges, she can’t let the fact that she’d be the first woman to attempt this stop her. Angel is depending on her.
It’s not just the danger and taking on a man’s career that challenges Harlie. She must learn to trust—her partner and herself, and learn to let go of what’s not hers to save.
A story of family and friendship, trust and truth.
Bio: Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superromance line, and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town.
Laura’s first women’s fiction, Days Made of Glass, released January, 2016.
In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
- Motifs and Symbols and Themes – with Laura Drake
- Organizing Your Novel with Laura Drake
- Laura Drake presents: Advanced Craft Tips
- Writing with Emotion by Laura Drake
- Laura Drake presents: Your First Chapter – Reader Glue