This page is from the 1906 “Text Book of Art Education.” Paintings evoke emotions, as should your books. How to compose like a painter? After attending an inspiring Master Class by Damon Suede, author of Verbalize: Bring Stories to Life & Life to Stories, I purchased the book and it stays by my computer for reference. Your story is a vibrant, evolving portrait. Contemplate your protagonist in an overall view, or big-picture sense. Ignore physical details to determine a single, key verb defining their internal need.
Creating an engaging, emotionally driven character requires broad swipes and delicate strokes, layered onto a solid base. Damon used Severus Snape and the verb, vex, to clarify his point. Throughout the Harry Potter books and movies, Snape’s depicted as annoying, disquieting or irritating—all synonyms of vex. Under paint each scene in your POV character’s key verb with a ‘wash’. In painting, artists often use an under color on the canvas to eliminate the urge to fill in the white space. Plant the POV character’s verb in your brain while you write. The underlying tone driving their actions should cut back on the need to use adjectives, adverbs, and back-story.
Identify the big moments. On a canvas, you’d block out the big shapes, in a manuscript the consequential scenes. Choose synonyms to the POV character’s key verb and post them at the turning points, setbacks, black moment, and climax. In my second book, Torn by Vengeance, my heroine’s key verb is prove. At different junctures she’ll confirm, convince, demonstrate, determine, explain, justify, substantiate, or validate.
Do a value study from light to dark. Intensity is critical in your characters’ arcs. My story opens with the heroine justifying her drive to earn money and by the story conclusion she’s validated the power of love in her life. Layering in shades of how and why she proves herself, through her actions, creates the base to support her growth.
Block in the colors. Conflict arises from oppositional key verbs. The hero in this story is a doctor. His key verb is assist and the two begin their relationship realizing their external goals clash. Don’t forget your side characters. The villain in my story radiates his drive to avenge in every move he makes against the heroine.
Adjust color and value. Pacing increases and dialogue pops when two opposing forces play out in the push/pull, win/lose, hate/love interplays. Add a few highlights, and remove dull areas and stop. That means complete the detail editing and take the next step to publish the story.
You never finish a painting, but find a perfect place to lay down the brush and be satisfied.