Thursday, July 31, 2014

Adding Depth To Your Stories

One of the common reasons I have for passing on projects is the lack of depth for both character development. Sure, the author had a great premise to the story and there was a lot of potential in the project, but as I read the actual story, something just wasn't there. For me, I think I can equate it to having a meal that, when you get up from the table, you still feel like you wanted more.

I should say that when we talk about adding depth to a story, we are not talking about adding additional "stuff" to the story. We don't need more plots elements. We don't need more conflicts. We don't need more back story. Adding all of this information really muddles the story and now just gives the reader more words. Again using the image of a meal, this would be similar to just adding more food items to an already bland meal. More is not always better, 

I do think many writers fall short in this area because they are so focused on the plot of the story. They really want to make sure all of the plot pieces are there as well as the world building. While this is certainly an important element of putting together a great story, it isn't everything. If you think of the plot, it is really the bricks in the story. The added depth of the story comes is much like the mortar holding everything together. 

I also think that many writers miss out on the depth simply because, in their head, they already know all of those smaller elements. They know what their characters think like. They know their likes and dislikes. They know how they feel when things happen around them. Because they know this information so well, it is often hard to convey that information to their readers.

To get this added depth, you have start getting into your characters heads. We need to start hearing their reactions and thoughts of things going on around them. We need to get those feelings and emotions to the things people say and do around them. We might also need to know more of why these characters are doing and saying the things in your story. 

Think of it this way. You and your spouse, friend or significant other are having a bit of an argument over something. It really doesn't matter the topic. That person just said something to you or reacted in someway that really pissed you off. Do you respond with a single line? Probably not. You might go on a complete rant screaming and yelling (hopefully not getting violent). If you don't do this verbally and out loud, the odds are that rant is going on in your head. Your brain really goes for it and maybe, depending on the severity of the conversation, it might go on for hours. Now obviously no one around you hears any of this, but if it was your character, your readers need to hear it. Essentially, what we want you to do is turn up the speakers that are connected to your character's brain and let us inside.

The goal of adding depth to the story is to give the reader a three dimensional feel for your character. The dialogue is the outward thoughts, but we need the internal.

As an activity. take a scene you are working on right now. It doesn't matter what type of scene you have. Now read the lines out loud to yourself. As soon as a character says something or does something, I want you to react. How do you feel? What do you really hear from this person? Is this changing your perspective on the world or your idea of this person. 

Once you get that idea out, dive into your story. You don't need to copy verbatim what you just reacted to, but take that same essential idea and play with that in the story. 

1 comment:

  1. As I was on your site, I scrolled to this post to see if there were any comments on the post I made and it seems to have disappeared (or apparently I didn't post it correctly!). Boo! So I thought I would take the time to post my comments again, even though it's a little late.
    I just wanted to say how truly relevant this post is. When I first started entering contests a couple of years ago, this was a comment heard a lot! After reading lots of books, taking workshops and investing in some great critique partners, I'm finally starting to understand character depth and how important it is to use deep pov.