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Laura Pauling | Category Archive | three dimensional characters
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Rising above cliche.

To a certain degree we all have cliches in our writing and our storylines.  The books that rise above the cliche have incredible writing, humor, heart, three dimensional characters, and fresh perspective.

Lately in YA, I’ve seen and read complaints on Goodreads about certain trends:

Paranormal

  • the love triangle (made popular by Twilight and continued with Hunger Games)
  • the hot paranormal bad boy 
  • the girl who falls in love (after this creature has hurt or intends to hurt her)

Dystopian

  • The controlling fortressed city surrounded by people who live in hovels. (Okay, I didn’t see this complaint on Goodreads but I don’t know how many more books I can read that are like this. I love coming across a dystopian that is unique.)

Do you think these concepts have become cliche? I believe these genres will continue to be popular but the ones that rise above will have to offer something new. Personally, I read in both genres and if the writing is excellent with terrific characters, I can look past the cliche. But, some of them, I’ve put down half way through. They are just too similar. Nothing new is offered.

Side note: As a parent, I’m not worried about teen girls learning the wrong thing about love from these books. It’s fiction. And teen girls are smart enough to know the difference. Every aspect of media whether it be books, movies, or advertising promotes an unrealistic view of love. I’d be more concerned with advertising than fiction.

But I do believe YA contemporary is on the rise. Readers want something different.

Not to pick on just paranormal and dystopian because there are cliche plots and characters in all genres. How do you rise above the cliche in your storyline while sticking to elements of your genre? Have you read any books that do this effectively?

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Finding the perfect wrong character for your story.

Plot usually comes first for me. And then the character that seems to fit best. Guess what?

At first, that character wears cliché like a toddler does food.

So this time around, I went out of my way to create a character that on paper would be the worst possible choice. What character would fail miserably for this story goal? And why? What character would absolutely not want to complete this story goal? And why? And then add personal stakes so they have to complete the story goal.

All in hopes that this will build in automatic inner and outer conflict. And add a bit of humor.

But another choice would be to create that perfect character for the role but burden him/her with a major flaw. A fear. A troublesome past. A physical handicap. An emotional handicap.

The danger in creating any character is going too far in either direction and ending up with a cartoon (which I’ve done). And as usual, the biggest challenge is the actual writing and making that character come alive on the page.

How do you create your characters? Do you tweak them to create more conflict? Or do your characters come first and then you build the plot around them?

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A confession about character charts

I don’t like character charts.

There I said it.

You’d think as someone who loves plotting and outlining that I’d be a diehard character chart person. Or I’d want to find magazine pictures of my character and make a collage. And I’d want to make a play list of their favorite music.

But I don’t do any of those things.

My first manuscript, my first conference, my first sit down with an agent – and she requested a partial. I almost died and went to manuscript heaven. I sent it off, full of hope, but received the rejection later. Something about the characters not being three dimensional. (And my writing so wasn’t ready.)

So I went on a quest. To find the secret of the 3D character.

With charts, I do like questions about the emotional mindset of the character. The questions that dig deep about why a person is the way they are. Why do they respond the way they do.

I write a fact about my character. Then I ask why. Then I ask why again and again. Until I’ve narrowed down the core emotional truths about my character.

And I love developing their backstory and what haunts them.

But all of that still won’t make a three dimensional character. 3D characters seem to be a combination of all aspects of great writing from dialogue to description to backstory to using sensory details…the list goes on.

And yes, the Snowflake Method comes with character charts. So, I did them. For all my characters. I don’t know if they’ll make a difference. I’m still a bit wary. I’ll let you know.

Do you use character charts?

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Snowflake Part III Character motivations

Some of you might be thinking, ‘Wow that Snowflake Method sure focuses on plot. What about the characters?’

Before using the Snowflake, I never got past the short synopsis. I wanted to jump into the writing.

And this time, I finally (yes, I’m slow to catch on) worked on the characters.

Here’s what I did:

  • Per the Snowflake, for each main and important secondary character, I wrote down their story goal, conflict, epiphany, sentence summary and paragraph summary.
  • And then, I wrote a characters synopsis for each of them – taking a few paragraphs to tell the story as if they were the main character. (Wow! Enlightening.)

I’ve barely started writing, but I feel as if I understand my villain, and I’m friends with my characters. But, knowing all this and creating 3D characters on the page are two different things. I have a lot of hard work ahead.

And I need all the help I can get. How do you make sure your characters are fully developed? And, what are some techniques to bringing them to life on the page? (Other than blood, sweat and tears.)

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Compelling Characters Part II

While reading so many awesome character posts, I jotted down highlights and recurring themes.

And then someone (not mentioning any names but he lives in this house) recycled the paper.

But here’s what I remember:

  • Character charts
  • Flaws
  • Larger than life
  • Characters should be actively making decisions.
  • Believability
  • Voice

Um, yeah, and I’d have a whole lot longer list if it hadn’t been recycled.

So the big blogging experiment showed me that most writers know what it takes to make a real, authentic character.

Then how come we’re not all published?

Creating that unforgettable character takes more than knowledge. We can read all the craft books and blog posts in the world but it means nothing if we don’t learn how to apply that knowledge to our writing. 

And frankly, the ‘how’ in bringing our characters to life on the page would take more than a 250 word blog post. Because we need all the facets of writing from story idea to plotting to backstory to description to world building to dialogue to pacing to internal thoughts to voice and more.

And that’s where the read, read, read, and write, write, write comes in.

So who’s going to be taking a second look at their characters this week? And what will stay with you after the dust settles from the great blogging experiment?

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