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  1. ianfort
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    ianfort New Member

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    Difficulty writing scenes where the protagonist is alone

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ianfort, Apr 24, 2010.

    I'm currently trying to start a novel, but I keep having trouble. The first chapter involves the main character awakening in the middle of nowhere without any idea how she got there, and then finding an abandoned house and exploring it.

    The main problem I have is when she's in the house. When I attempt this, the text is both awkward and painfully dull to write. I know I could just summarize her exploration of the house, but I need to describe in detail her exploration of at least two rooms before I breeze over the rest, or it will seem too hasty with all telling and no showing.

    What I want to do is describe her environment, show what she's doing in it, and show what her thoughts on all of this are, but to do all of these things at once is difficult, especially since my description in minimal detail of the living room already feels too long and dull to read, and adding any sort of aside for her thoughts would be borderline intolerable for the reader.

    Then she goes into the kitchen to look for food, and the whole problem repeats itself. This time I tried adding her reactions to the environment, but they seem abrupt and disjointed.

    I can't seem to write about my protagonist walking around the house in an interesting way. I know It'll get better once more characters are introduced, as I can always keep things interesting then, but even when the character's alone I can make it interesting, provided the character already has a history with the place, or the place is noticeably unusual. But this is just her walking around an average looking house, and I can't seem to make it interesting enough, and it's so difficult to keep writing that I'm often tempted to put it off.
    Any suggestions?
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do you have to go into the great depth and detail?

    What is the character looking for besides shelter in the abandoned house? In other words, what is the purpose? If food is, then going through the pantry or shelves or the like can't take that long and that much description.

    Really, in the end, why is the reader going to care about this individual and what they're looking for? If the reader doesn't care, they won't read further.

    It's kind of difficult to give advice on a topic such as this, with the information available, but maybe you're starting the story in the wrong place?

    You can always just write the beginning and move on, even if it's not great. You can refine it, and maybe pick a better spot to start it (or move some of the thoughts and description, if they remain important) to a little bit later in the story.

    Good luck as you move forward.

    Terry
     
  3. alexwebb
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    alexwebb Member

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    I can't picture it. How about a little example of the piece?
     
  4. MJ Preston
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    MJ Preston Banned

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  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It may be that you are seeing very clearly. You want to show the reader the environement in full detail, but you at least realize that it will become deadly dull.

    Keep the description to a minimum, and the detail sparse. If she will be there for an extended period, let the details bleed in over time. You don't want to leave your character too long without something happening, at least in reader time.

    Her reactions to the environment are probably more important than the environment itself.
     
  6. ianfort
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    ianfort New Member

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    Well, she wakes up in the middle of massive, flat, featureless dessert, and the only thing she can find is the house, so she naturally goes into it to get out of the heat. Though the house appears to have not seen any use at all, it somehow still gets electricity and running water. It even has food which isn't spoiled, nor has any of the packaging been opened. Yes, this is interesting when summarized, but the interior looks like a completely average house, and when I try to describe the environment, it always comes across as dull.
     
  7. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ian

    I've actually began both of my novels with the main characters in more or less this very situation - alone, but in their own houses.

    I would definitely suggest going into some detail about what is going through the character's mind, as well as a physical description of the house and its contents. And another trick may be for something in there to trigger a vivid memory for the character, and you could then go off in that direction - possibly something that helps them decide what to do next.
     
  8. runaway_lighthouse
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    runaway_lighthouse Member

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    Something that usually helps move things along (in my experience, at least) is to describe other thoughts in your character's mind. They don't even have to pertain to what she's doing at the moment. They could be a reflection on something else relevant to your story. While you're doing this, pepper in the occasional mention of something new she's doing, or have something about her environment catch her eye. Try to think the way your character would be thinking--like, while you're performing mundane tasks in your own life, is your attention completely devoted to them or are your thoughts elsewhere? It could be realistic, and also help move things along. Inner dialogue is useful at these times.

    Also, another way to approach this problem would be to consider this question: if nothing is happening, and if this entire scene is pretty dull, is it really all that important to your story? Consider trimming it down to a bare minimum, and moving on.
     
  9. Majeef
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    Majeef New Member

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    Perhaps if you write a later, more eventful chapter first. It may help you get a better understanding of your character and the things that she notices. It could also help you find the flow for your story, making it easier for you to find the right pace in your first chapter.

    If only two of the rooms in the house are important for the story, during the rest of the search you could be setting atmosphere and describing character thoughts / reactions. Then go into physical detail for the two rooms that need it, maybe these details could highlight the atmosphere or warrant special reaction / speech from your character.
     
  10. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    Just a few thoughts.

    To start, how would you feel if you were in that house? Despite located in the middle of nothing, you said it appears to be inhabited. How would you feel then, rummaging through someone's house? Of course, shelter and food (and water) are necessities, so she has little choice at this point. But what is she going to say if someone comes home? What about arming herself, just in case they don't take kindly to her intrusion? Where is she going to go from here? Is she going to wait and hope someone arrives, and thus something has to force her out of the house? Or is she going to venture out in into the landscape to see what it holds? If that's the case, she'd probably pack up a few things to take with her -- and probably feel a little guilty or disgruntle about it. It is someone else's house. . .apparently.

    The fact the house has very little to offer means you should focus less on it and more on her. Besides, it's the beginning of the story and this is a great way to introduce her personality. Did she gather weapons? Then she's the planning sort that's ready to arm herself. Is she struggling against pawing through someone's house? Then she's a respectful creature. Is she waiting? Then she's not the venturing type.

    It seems to me part of the problem is that you know the story about the house. But the character--and therefore, the readers--don't. So explore it from the angle that it's a house first.

    By having the char gather up goods or looking for something to protect herself (both against people and the sun), this gives you the go ahead to have her explore and find those two important rooms.

    Just make sure the actions fit the char, but bearing in mind that survival overcomes most personality types.

    Best luck,

    //R
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re:

    "but the interior looks like a completely average house"

    Can you give the interior some personality? I don't mean anything whacky, but you could imagine the people who once lived there and imagine what they'd do to it.

    I have a scene in my NaNoWriMo novel where my character is searching for something in a basement of a house that she's unfamiliar with. The basement is full of stored stuff, a top layer of carelessly piled junk over a lower layer of boxes that were carefully and lovingly packed - knitted baby sweaters folded just so in layers of tissue paper and layered with cedar blocks, for example, and postcards from summer beach vacations carefully tied with ribbon.

    I got interested enough in the basement that I wrote a lot of excess unpacking and searching, and when I edit the thing I'll pick the best bits. I also got interested in who did all that loving packing, and may extend the novel a few decades in the past. I also learned that my main character has a thieving instinct and a talent at rationalizing the immoral - she convinced herself that the collectible costume jewelry that she found lovingly packed in little felt bags would be better off with her than moldering in the basement, and that the person who packed it would agree.

    Er. My point? Ah, yes, my point: Try thinking about the house, sort of treating it as a character, and you might find it effortlessly becoming more interesting. Or it might be fun, anyway.

    ChickenFreak
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you are up for it, I would suggest reading the trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett. There are sections in there (some of them 100 pages long) where the character is alone in a room with no interaction with others. Although it's not that similar to what you are thinking of doing, it's still a good place to look for ideas and suggestions.
     
  13. black-radish
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    black-radish Senior Member

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    if it's "dull", you could just spice up your description a little by adding for example an item that the MC feels attracted to or has some sort of special effect on him/her. Or simple phrases such as "The stains in the carped reminded me of blood" or "The floor squeeked underneath my feet" bring in a little extra suspense.
    You don't need to go in great detail of this house if it's unimportant.
    You also said that the reader would be intolerant of reading the thoughts of the MC, why is that?

    Hope I was able to help you a little, good luck and have fun writing! :)
    ~ Lola
     
  14. Rajikai
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    Rajikai Member

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    Well everyone said what they want, so I'll say what I want. For me creativity all begins with visualization. See what you want to describe, let it be in real life, or in your mind. For me, I just close my eyes and go to Lala land. I just begin to think about the storyline that is occurring and slowly fade into it.

    From this it could be expanded through pre reading, though I really despise doing so, but it can also be increase by saying what she is thinking. She could be thinking about anything. It really doesn’t have to be only on one subject. And it would be great to give some flash back from here to there. Like what she last saw/remembers. It doesn’t have to be all physical to describe things, it could be emotion, just as regret, confusion, and so on, it be mental, what’s going on her head, it could also be senses, does she feel something creepy haunting her, what scent is she smelling, what does she hear (a creeping noise, squeaky whatever), what does she taste (mourning breath etch) and the list never stops.

    Creativity and imagination in the number one key in writing. You have it, just attempt new ways. Also when you got writer’s block or such on certain topics, I’ll give you two pieces of advice. You can either skip that part, or continue writing (its okay if there’s a gap in your story, you can always come back, just start a new paragraph), or you can just begin a new short story, or just stop writing for now. Through time and sleep, you mind will get refreshed and new ideas WILL pop in your head (even if it’s unrelated to what you are stuck on) you can always build around it. No rush, Rome wasn’t built in a day (as they say)

    I’m a guy, and somehow made my character a girl, oh well… Hope this works
     

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