Whenever I meet a new volunteer at the bookstore, I introduce myself as Loudmouthed and Opinionated (seriously, my rants are pretty much legendary). But you don’t need to be able to go on hour-long rants to have an opinion. In fact, most opinions don’t need to be stated outright, because often they’re so ingrained in your worldview and belief system that it bleeds through into your everyday language.
This is also true about characters. And hopefully, those characters don’t spend nearly as much time as I do ranting their opinions to anybody who wants to avoid doing work for the day.
An important part of narration (especially first person narration) is finding the character’s voice. A lot of people accomplish this by making the character off-beat, sarcastic, funny, or just plain weird– but that doesn’t always mesh with the personality of your chosen narrator. A great way of bringing out that personality and adding color to that voice is to let the narrator’s opinions take forefront. The way they see the world will inform huge swaths of their perceptions of the world around them.
Consider the following sentence:
I walked into a large building that stood on a wide lawn.
That’s bland. It’s unimaginative. It’s boring. Now let’s add in some personality. A few made-up-on-the-spot characters and their opinion of the same building:
Architect: I hurried between an arrangement of Roman columns, glancing up at a vaulted ceiling so high I had to crane my neck to take in its full scope.
- Agoraphobe: The building was a lousy shelter from the overwhelming expanse of the lawn; the pillars felt like some giant monster’s fangs, open wide to swallow me whole.
- Guerrilla: The openness of the green space was unnerving. The inside of the building wasn’t much better, but at least I could take some cover behind the columns.
- Gorilla: Finally I find some trees– but there’s something wrong with these. They’re cold and hard and have no branches. This place smells wrong, like lemon and leopard piss.
For each of these, that one sentence (or couple of sentences) might very well be the only time the building is ever described, and none of these are particularly time-consuming descriptions. But each of these sets the stage with a setting, a mood, and an insight into the mind of the narrator. The end result is often prose that is dynamic, compact and (hopefully!) just plain interesting.