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Monday, May 17, 2010

Dividing Lines

Is it soccer, or football?

Do you want to vacation on the beach, or in the mountains?

Do you root for the home team, or not?

Love the Giving Tree, or think it should be burned?

Sandals or flip-flops?

There are little things our culture that can polarize society. Lines in the sand that divide Us from Them.

Over the weekend I read several book, and I'm at the point with reading and editing that I can't switch off my Internal Editor unless a book is really good. Some of the books, no problem.

But one of my weekend reads was giving me fits. My IE was having a tantrum, stamping her foot, and demanding a rewrite. So I dragged out my notepad, the dreaded red pen, and started to dissect the story to find out what was wrong.

The problem was that all the character's were either 100% good, or 100% evil. They were caricatures of ideas, rather than 3d characters. I couldn't imagine the characters doing anything outside of the plot line. They had no opinions, no interests, no flaws that were not immediately relevant to the plot.

In short, they were cardboard cut outs produced by the prop department to fill space. I couldn't engage with the characters because they weren't fleshed out. And I felt cheated.

Characters need opinions, not just about things pertinent to the plot, but on everything. Not all of the opinions need to come out during the story, but the author needs to know.

Does your character tie their shoes with a single knot? A double? Only wears stiletto heels in magenta? What does your character want for breakfast?

If you don't know, you should.

Take some time to sit down with your character and map out their dividing lines. Where do they stand? What makes them furious? The more you know, the more your character will come to life.

Image courtesy of Vintage Blue website.


  1. "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman is a great resource for questions to ask your characters. Everything from physical appearance to how they react to views of their parents, etc.

    Find it if you don't have a copy. Seriously. I use it every time I'm creating new characters for a new story just to get a good feel for the character. Some things might change as I write the story but I at least have a good starting point.

  2. I'm so impressed you put in the time to critique that book! I would have just tossed it and started something new! But thanks for tackling it and sharing the lesson with us. :)

  3. Stephanie - I'll be on the look out for that title.

    Amy - The plot was actually pretty good. The premise was fun. The Voice was excellent. With a little more practice I think the author will be an excellent writer and I'm looking forward to future works. But that characters were flat. When everything else is working, it's easy to notice something is wrong. It's a lot harder to turn around and fix that problem.

  4. I know this is TOTALLY random... but is it weird that I kinda like that dress?

    Also, I agree--it's really hard to turn off the editor for books. Which I HATE. I used to be really good at it, but now? I've revised my own book, CPed three others? It's really hard to switch modes, lol.

  5. 青春一逝不復返,事業一失難有成。 ..................................................