With that in mind, I dusted off my literary criticism hat and started seriously looking at what makes the difference between writers that have 3-dimensional writing and writing that is more 2-dimensional. I had really thought it was going to take much more work than it did, but the answer was fairly simple (although I am not sure the writing of it is as simple).
I began first with the "flat" writing, and in this case, I took some time to look at the stories that had been published so there must have been something the acquiring editors had seen in the work to sell it. Here is what I saw:
- There was action in the story. The plot started in a great place and did keep moving.
- The conflict in the story was unique.
- The words the characters said were unique and strong.
There was a serious disconnect between all of the writing. The words from Bob's song on Sesame Street suddenly came to mind, "One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong." The writing had all of the elements of a great story but it just didn't fit together to round out the picture.
I picked up a couple of other books and saw the same thing - the disconnect.
So I tried the 3-dimensional book books and guess what. The connect was there.
Let me explain. with the "flat writing" again.
The first story I read had the hero plunged in the middle of a battle. Apparently he and his friend had been in the middle of the serious combat now for some time because exhaustion was breaking in. (I was told this). But the dialogue, made it sound as if they were sitting around White's having their brandy and discussing the day's business. Sure the words told me otherwise, but the tone was just not there.
Look, if they are tired then the words need to struggle out of their mouth. No, the writer doesn't say, "When we get back to London, I'll by you a brandy," he said but the words stuggled out of his mouth. It should be...
"When we get back," pausing to take a breath of air, "to London that is... I'll have to buy you a brandy." (O.K., I've only had one cup of coffee this morning). The idea is, using the same words we can use action tags to enhance the depth a little. Now, adding in more physicality of the characters, wiping the sweat off the uniforms, noting the tears in their shirts, the feel of the unshaven beard combined with the sweat and dirt we have a little more. Of course, you have to make the characters very aware of this.
Is this the showing vs. telling arguments. Partially, but I believe it is one step more. You have to tie everything together nicely.
I am working with a writer now that is adding more depth to their writing much in this way. The approach we are taking is very much like a method actor would take. As she examines her character, she thinks of the similar characters from movies that she wanted to use. It doesn't have to be from the same historical period, but she focuses on the tone of their voice and the way they look and sound (no, not the dialogue and their physical description). Now she uses that as a muse.
Think of these characters. Think of how they talk and how they move. Very distinctive and unique and certainly VERY three dimensional.
Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient (when he isn't burned)
John Malkovitch (in anything)
Get the idea? Now, your homework is to find some more three dimensional elements in your stories and work with each. Please, help me stop writing the word FLAT on rejection letters.