Avoiding the flat character traps…

So you wrote a draft. You now are madly in love with all the supporting characters except the lead! How the heck did this happen and HOW the heck do I fix it? Oh boy, been there, not just been there but beat it like a dead horse at that!
First off, congratulations!! Finishing a story is super hard! I give you full credit for trying. The first book I wrote (from the start to the finish, very important qualifier there, you have to finish!) I simply could NOT figure out why my story didn’t work. I know now that it was  first book syndrome  (FBS) and  I was too close to it.
I was the helicopter mom who finished all the characters sentences. So much so, that I left a good deal of needed info OUT of the book, assuming the readers would follow along.  I kept rewriting it when I had a break between edits on the second book and the dreaded day job (ok, and making cosplay costumes and everything else) and still the story felt odd. Joanie was a flat piece of plastic while the supporting cast of characters were three-dimensional.
Generally with flat POV characters, the biggest trick is to add in the 5 senses (or 6 if the case may allow, sometimes found as inner monologues) We don’t want to info dump all over our book. We often can’t sit there and describe them (unless they are looking in a mirror and even then that is dicey) Often the other characters are often more interesting because our boring POV character can mentally react to them. When you start invoking the senses in your basic descriptive portions you start pulling out the things that are missing in the flat POV. For instance you may find that the smell of peppermint that the person talking to her has on his breath reminds her of her grandfather, or repulses her because she ate too many as a kid, etc, all providing depth into who she is…
If you feel like you “know the girl like the back of your hand” then you really don’t need to do any type of character building or work sheets. There are many wonderful things out that can help you find the core of your character if you need more research. This workbook is a fine place to start.
And then there was the story itself. It worked FOR ME but I knew all the backstory. Every Beta copy I sent out (there were about 4, even I knew better than to shop it around) I called TRAINWRECK. I hoped they could help, but the only feed back I got was, “Something is not right but I don’t know what.” It was a the final copy I sent out that did the trick. A friend, who is an amazing developmental editor, finally cracked the problem wide open.
Here are three things that can help. For me they came in the form of developmental notes.  These were added to my manuscript in the form of comments, telling  me what she did or don’t see for the story to work. They would not be  looking at your writing style or grammar or anything else, this is just rough draft thoughts on Story.
There were three main things points the Dev. Editor focused on:

  • Basic story line thoughts.  These would be about items missing or not needed for the story. Backstory needing to be sprinkled in or tangents that slowed the pace.
  •  For one chapter I would get character notes. This would just be suggestions on how to make your Lead character feel more 3-d
  •  Suggestions of arrangement/composition. *sigh* I suffered GREATLY from starting in the wrong place. I rewrote it repeatedly, thinking I was getting it right, just to have the same thing happen, again and again. The true problem was I thought I was being mysterious, but really I was just keeping the reader in the dark, and why would they want to keep reading?
    My dev editor wrote me a short email at the end about her thoughts. This was how I reformulated MY thinking on where the story would start so that I could find a better path. She did not tell me how to write the story, just what eyes who did not know the story saw. Listening is key here, that and putting aside your ego, because not all news is good news.
     So now you are reading this saying “But I have no magical Dev. Editor”  or even worse “Ain’t nobody got money for that”  Here are some things you can do for yourself as things to try to find your book’s path.
  1. Do a synopsis. First, just free form it. Did you have to tell me a lot of backstory so I would understand the book? (the first time I did!!) She asked for under 1000 words, the one I gave her was almost 4K, and I hung my head in shame as I hit send.  I could not find the center story, My secondary characters were so complex I was telling all about their stories!!
  2. Now take the synopsis and thin it again. We want to try to make your brain find the core. SO I suggest that now you have gotten to your 1000 words, you take it to 250, then 3 sentences then just one!
  3. Nail your trope and genre. Have you looked at this? this is the hardest one for me personally, I still am not sure I am doing this right all the time. The point of it is that each type of story has a certain rhythm and points that you must hit along the journey, do you have all of these and are they in the expected order? That was an eye opener for me, I thought I was being creative, but instead I was just making the flow off.
     The great thing about these things is that you are still working on your story, but they don’t’ take as long as rewrites. There is NO point in rewriting it over and over if you have not found the flaw to fix. In my opinion you can redo it a hundred times but without the map to the flaw you are just digging random holes looking for treasure. You have gold in there, you just need to find the big X …
     The final thing to remember is that there are a very large portion of fantastic authors out there who will tell you flat-out, “My first book never saw the light of day.” We learn through practise. Keep writing, you get better with every book. My first published book was really a double dog dare to myself at times, just to have the backbone to leave it up. It is like sharing a secret diary with the world at first.  Then , as you get better at the craft you just want to constantly go fix it! Improve it! Turn it into a bionic book. *Insert the sounds of a bionic book climbing the charts here* The saving grace for me was the reviews. The random strangers who took the few extra minutes to stop in and tell me “Hey, keep writing, we want more!” That for me is what makes it all worth it.

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