The Power of the Boast

In your ongoing struggle to merge with a point-of-view character, you may want to try a hammer. Its name is: the boast. Why is it so powerful?

We all are delighted when a character in a book makes some outrageous claim about what he will do next. “He was going to fool all of them, every single last one.” Or, better, “I’m going to make their heads spin, just wait and see.” Such a claim can be made to another character or told directly to the reader. 

I should point out that the boast has to be direct in order for it to break through the barrier you’re experiencing. A statement like “He was going to devise a stratagem that would fool all of them” is still commentary by the author about the character. The claim has to come from inside: simple, blunt, irrefutable, even if the reader knows the character is dead wrong.

Narrative work like this accomplishes several important aims. First, readers love to participate in such claims. If Kim announces that she is going to break through the glass ceiling, we’re now curious to see how she will do it. Even more important, a boast puts you as the author on the firing line. You’re not commenting any longer; now you have to carry out the character’s claim. 

A boast can be a way that allows you to draw more exaggerated features for the character. He gains a swagger. He’s that outrageous guy, not the well-meaning pawn you chose originally. That kind of character can kick some ass. You can have fun writing about a character like that.

You can decide to insert a boast once every chapter, for starters. In how many chapters does that character appear? Take that number as your guide: you have to devise that many boasts. What are they going to be? Draw up a list of them, being scandalous every time. Fight the inner voice that says, “I’d never do something like that,” or “Nobody will believe that.” Go on, start writing the scene knowing you’re going to make that boast—and then make your character live up to it. In the process, you’ll have to live up to it too.

Exercise: A boast extends a natural personality trait of a character. When you are drawing up your list, think about what qualities you’d like to exaggerate. What kind of person would say that? Better yet, what would it take for you to say that? You’re not writing about the character any longer. You have to step forward with a run of your own thoughts that supports the boast. So, go on, be somebody else: be the character.

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