The other day I received my copy of the SCBWI bulletin for Jan/Feb 2012. As usual I flipped through it quickly taking stock of what articles I was in for when I actually had a chance to sit down and read it. I found an article that stopped me in my tracks, and I ignored getting dinner ready for a few extra minutes to read it.
The article was "Don't Hold Back" by Joelle Anthony. In the article Anthony discusses her realization that her characters were holding back. They were thinking of doing something, but not doing for some reason or another. This struck me as something I've noticed in my own writing. Too often I find myself typing a scene where my characters could react in one way, but they don't, they hold back. Or rather, I hold them back.
Anthony suggests not holding back. Allow your characters to react the way they want to. Even if you open a new document to do so and never end up using it. You may learn something new from your characters or have a great new scene. She suggests going through your manuscripts looking for key phrases such as, "I wanted to, I tried, I wished, I lost my nerve, ..."
It was like this lightbulb moment for me. I have been holding my characters back and I didn't realize it. Well, I did, but I pushing it to the side and moving on. So, I took a look at the chapter I was starting to edit. What do you know? I found a spot with potential for my characters to react differently. My main character is a teenager, who is dead, she needs to show more emotion. This is clear from my critique partners that she needs to let go and unleash more. I did just that. I let her flip out on someone rather than quietly calm herself down and hold back. When I let go, she let go, which of course allowed another character to let go as well.
I feel better for the excersize and will definitely be doing this more often. I know I was an emotional teen. So why can't my characters be emotional as well? There really ins't a good reason not to let them let go now and then. Of course, they shouldn't let go all the time, but occasionally they should. Especially if it will help round out their character and further the story.
Your Turn -> Are you holding back your characters?