Friday, August 26, 2016

Adding "Stuff" Is Not Adding Depth

We've probably all experienced this before. You sit down for dinner and your are hungry. Your plate is served and it looks good. When you next look down the plate is empty, but something is missing. (No, it is not your fork). You aren't hungry. The meal was fine, but the meal was lacking in some way. What you are experiencing is what we talk about in writing as depth.

A lot of you have heard many editors and agents talk about adding depth to your stories and your characters, but for too many authors, this is a concept that is really difficult to comprehend. What I often hear from authors, after I pass on a project due to depth issues, is that the author will go and add a few more scenes. "There is still room in the word count area to make those changes."

This author doesn't get it.

Just adding more stuff often creates a mess. It's like those darn packing peanuts some wonderful person created. I get that playing in this stuff may be fun at the time, cleaning it up is not something any of us enjoy. In fact, you often spend the next several month cleaning the darn things up.

Adding depth is not just about adding more stuff to your story. It is not about adding more scenes, or more to your word count. While adding depth may increase your word count, this is really an issue of creating a more three dimensional experience for the reader. You want to immerse the reader in the world of the characters and the lives they are living.

When we think about your characters, a lot of this depth comes from the concept of Goal Motivation and Conflict that we first heard about from Debra Dixon. What is really driving these characters? What makes them tick? How do they react in given situations? When the heroine in a story finds out that the hero has been playing her for the whole time, and yet she has really fallen for him, how is it that she is going to react? What emotions will she experience and see?

Think of the movie, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE... Remember this scene?

We all remember what happens with this? Her reaction when he reminds her this was all an act devastates her. The facial expressions, the look in her eyes and her short, and yet emotional comments agreeing say it all. That is depth.

Where many writers would take this to is not adding depth. They would often add a full chapter, or at least pages of her going back through the whole relationship in her head. They would have her crying in her room, or screaming about it with her friends. Taking this approach is really about telling and not showing.

Now, I get that movies are different because you have the chance for the characters to say a lot without using words due to camera angles and so forth, but in reality, the same can happen when you are writing.

It is a matter of word economy. It is a matter of making the most of every scene you have and every line your characters speak. This can often be done by replacing a full scene of action with just a couple of lines that get us into the characters head for a few minutes. Another approach would be, instead of sending the characters out to vent privately, have those emotions come out while the characters are in the middle of the heated exchange. Blending in that introspection and giving us the reason why they are angry or hurt.

I should also add that increasing the depth of the story is not an issue of putting in a lot of back story for your characters. I have written about that in the past her on the blog. We don't need a story where the heroine had to come from a poor family, an alcoholic father, a mother who was a prostitute and then falls into a marriage where the ex not only was found in bed with someone else, but she finds out he was gay.

Not depth. Just too much.

Go back to what drives this person. If there is a reason she doesn't want the relationship, keep it simple. The depth comes from just having the character express those emotions. Make sure the reader knows it.

So, your homework for the weekend is to work on that depth!

Have fun!!!!!

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