Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Deep down . . . I'm really shallow

By Julie Wright

Now that I've written my title to this, I cringe at how many meanings it has for me personally.

But really this isn't about me. It's about my characters and your characters and characters in general. I recently completed reading a book for the YA market. The plot rocked. The fantasy elements stunned. The setting perfect. But the characters were so flat, they were unrecognizable road kill.

I know that sounds harsh but I feel the editors failed this author. They should have sent the manuscript back and given a little lesson on dialogue and depth and motivation. But alas . . . no.

I am not here today as a writer, but as a reader--to shout in behalf of readers everywhere who say, "Please give me depth! Please do not let me dive into a puddle when I thought I had an ocean.

Your characters have to make choices for themselves. They have to solve things for themselves. They have to grieve when things go wrong, but take action against that wrong. They have to show emotion. They need habits; they need intelligence. They need opinions. They need a few flaws since no ones perfect. They need pasts and futures. They need depth.

If you want living characters, learn about dialogue. Eavesdrop on other people's conversation if you must, but take the time to do real dialogue.

And don't have your characters explain and explain and explain.

I know a little exposition is necessary, but if you do too much, you're going to have some other writer ranting about you on a blog somewhere in the world!

Exposition can be hidden. Do your readers a favor and do not have characters whose only purpose is to say, "Well,this happened because a long time ago blah blah blah . . ." or "this might happen because blah blah blah." If you have a character whose only purpose is to be a narrator of your story, you may need a rewrite.

I think that's what bugged me most about the last book I read. The characters never take responsibility for anything they do. The girl doesn't seem all that bothered when her brother is thought to be dead, and doesn't rejoice enough for me to believe her when she finds he really isn't dead. The whole book is filled with emotions so blah that I don't see any of them as anything important. I don't care what happens to anyone in this book.

If I'm going to invest my time with your characters, I want to care about them. I need to care about them. Please make me care.

So I beg of you writers out there. Don't let me dive into another puddle when I thought I was diving into an ocean. You should see the goose-egg on my forehead.


Anna Maria Junus said...

I love writing dialogue.

Here's a trick for learning how to write dialogue, which makes many writers cringe...

Watch TV. Everwood and Gilmore Girls come to mind. The dialogue is rich and funny and really defines the characters. After all, all TV and movie dialogue has to written. Another great one...Bringing up Baby with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Yes it's an oldie, but the dialogue is hilarious even now.

Julie Wright said...

I love dialogue too. It is my strongest point. I have to admit, description isn't my strongest point. And oh how I loved Bringing up Baby!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

How funny you mention Everwood. My husband used to work on Everwood, and I've written a spec script for the Return of Everwood. No, don't get your hopes up because none of the original actors WANT to return. In any case, the script supervisor read my script and said I had the characters and their voices down really well. Hmmm. . . wonder if I could use the script as a place to write a new book about the series.