Showing Character

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A little over a year ago, I asked four of my author friends what it’s like to work with an editor. One of them responded by giving me a comic strip she’d drawn herself.

So awesome! I laughed hard when I got it, and I still laugh when I go back and read that post. Visiting her blog StoryMonster is the same kind of treat: a visual delight with plenty of good-natured humor. All of that combined with tweets from her editor at Greenwillow gushing about how amazing Heather’s debut is . . . well, I knew I had to preorder it and read it immediately once it finally came out at the end of March.

And I loved it.

Honestly. Her editor wasn’t exaggerating with the gushing. This novel is gorgeous.

Especially after the fuss I made in last week’s post, I figure I better tell you how and why.

First of all, the novel is based on the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses.

Twelve.

Right there, anybody would stop and tell you that’s way too many characters to deal with. How is a reader supposed to keep track of them all? There’s a very real danger of several, most, or all of them falling flat. But in Entwined, they don’t.

To keep the ages straight, she uses the trick of having the girls’ names arranged A–L: Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Eve, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and Lily. Why are they alphabetical? Because the king loves order, so even the trick itself reveals character.

It doesn’t take long for each sister to feel rounded out beyond just their age. When gentlemen begin calling, we learn that Clover is the most beautiful by how they react to her, and we also learn that it’s not easy to tell who is the oldest just by looking at the girls. But Clover’s beauty is paired with bashful stuttering to round her out. Bramble is the outspoken rebel. Delphinium likes to pretend to faint. Goldenrod hides a little in the shadow of her twin Flora. Ivy is always eating. While the younger girls are featured less prominently, we always have a sense of them and the sense that each is unique.

Maybe thanks to her storyboarding background, Heather is fantastic at showing everything. She never has to stop and explain things, you just understand by the expressions or dialogue or actions — even by the sound!

FFFFFput!

A tiny arrow, just the length of her hand with a little metal heart for the tip, had imbedded itself in the wall next to Azalea.

 

The candle went foof.

“Ack!” said Azalea. She smothered the fire in the folds of her skirt, leaving the odor of smoked fabric.

That gift for showing is one of the main ways she brings her characters to life. Lord Teddie is always bubbly and jovial, so when his face and voice suddenly become serious, you know how hurt he is. How much or how little Clover stutters reveals her feelings. Azalea digs her fingernails into her palms when she’s angry.

And best of all, their father is flawed and wonderful, too. They hate him for abandoning them after their mother dies, but Heather lets the reader see that he’s not mean, only in terrible pain from missing his wife.

Consider this scene:

“But it does help,” said Clover. She kept her eyes down, lashes brushing her cheeks, but she pulled the courage to step forward. “Mother would — would dance at night, too. In the ballroom — and — and you were there, and you danced the Entwine, and — you caught her, and she kissed you. On the nose.” Clover blushed deeply. “I think it was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She said it with fewer pauses than usual, as though she had recited it a hundredfold. Azalea pulled her hand away from the slate, thinking of Mother and the Entwine, the tricky dance with the sash. If Mother had gotten caught, it was only because she had let the King catch her.

The king backed up, taut, against the rosebush ledge, the dry thorny branches pressing into his back. His face had become severe.

“It helps to remember,” said Clover.

“We will not speak of your mother,” said the King. His voice was even, but harder and colder than frozen steel. “You are finished with your lessons. Go to your room.”

The words lashed. Clover cowered, swallowed, then pushed her way out of the nook, clutching her boots and limping. They could hear her choked weeping echoing down the hall.

“Oh, Clover!” cried Flora. Hands linked, she and Goldenrod bounded after.

“Oh, look what you’ve done!” said Delphinium, crying angrily. She swept Lily into her arms and took off unevenly after them. Kale, Eve, Jessamine, Hollyhock, and Ivy ran out, followed by Bramble, who shot the King a flaring look as she left.

That’s just one example of why I think this book is gorgeous: the scenes that tug your heart in two directions, knowing how much each side is hurting and misunderstanding the other, while keeping a subtle humor alive and well (oh how I love that Bramble and her looks and scolds!).

I think knowing Heather makes the humor even better, too. So check out the comic she drew for me, check out her blog, check out Entwined, and enjoy every page!

Read any other fantastic examples of novels that delight your senses and show character?

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10 responses »

  1. Pingback: Blocking a Novel Like a Stage « All About the Words

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