Author Topic: Triggers  (Read 824 times)

Offline Annmarie

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Triggers
« on: May 17, 2013, 04:11:28 AM »
Not the gun kind, guys, sorry.  This is a writing question. :)

I'm still happily (or not so happily) polishing my novel, and I've been thinking about triggers. William Brohaugh and Sol Stein are blending in my head, and I'm not sure I'm getting their points on the issue.

I do understand the big goal to trigger images in a reader's mind, using nouns and verbs, with specific, concrete details, but not too many so as not to spoil the pictures in the reader's mind.

Here's where I get fuzzy. A trigger can be a detail that illustrates a character. Readers can identify the character easily that way. I think the example was something like, "Joe is a sharp guy." You don't state that, you just load his description or actions with sharpness. I think. I'm not talking about giving a character a stock phrase or even a quirk like he always sucks his thumb. I think this trigger thing is more subtle. But like I said, I don't really understand the technique.

Here's another point: Brohaugh talks about accumulating minor triggers (details that imply) to set off a major one. I'm not sure if this is what I just talked about with the character, or something else completely. Does anyone know about this?

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Offline Don

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Re: Triggers
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2013, 11:48:34 AM »
Excellent question, Annmarie, and one that hasn't been tossed around in some time.

The way I understand character triggers, minor details that the reader can identify with have a cumulative effect in the reader's mind. Eventually, the reader comes to see the character as a flawed individual (like many people we know in real life) even if the character remains in denial.

In my current project, I have a character who is constantly broke and a borderline alcoholic. It would be boring if I told the reader this. Instead, I tell the reader he is two months behind on the rent and unaccustomed to any restaurant without a dollar menu. On the occasions when money does come his way, he spends it on expensive whiskey and fast women.

The reader knows he could have done better but he justifies his actions because he is always chasing a bigger prize. The reader "gets it" even though the character doesn't.

Hope this helps a little bit.

-Don
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: Triggers
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 01:24:30 PM »
Definitely helps, Don, thanks. It sounds like another tool from the "show don't tell" box.

I was thinking the big trigger was something below the surface of the character, hidden maybe even from himself. The details hint at it. I think I've been doing this without realizing it, but I'm trying to be more conscious of techniques like that for revision.
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