investment

Writing Is A Bad Habit: The Eight Deadly Words a.k.a. Creating Character Investment

“I don’t care what happens to these people.”

These eight deadly words comprise the sentence you never want your readers to utter.  It is the death knell of creative character-driven media of all kinds.  If the readers don’t care about your characters, they won’t care about your narrative either.  It’s important to note that ‘caring’ about characters does not always equate to ‘liking’ them.  A reader might like a character, but not be invested in them and, to flip it around, a reader might hate a character but be totally entranced by their actions.

So how do we combat this and avoid those eight words?  The first and most obvious step is character relatability.  Again, a relatable character doesn’t have to be liked or disliked, just understandable.  We’ve talked about this quite a bit, but it never hurts to reiterate this.  Characters need to have motivations, thoughts, and feelings that make sense.  If these things make sense to your audience, they will relate to the characters and, likely, become invested in them.  It’s the classic ‘we like what we understand’ thought in action.

There are other things we should do to create this needed investment.  Another way to create that ‘caring’ from the reader is to ensure that there is sufficient risk in the plot line, that there are stakes to the conflicts involved.  Not just stakes, but stakes that fit the conflict involved.  If there is no risk or stakes or drama connecting the plot and the characters, there’s no compelling reason for the reader to become invested in the plot, no matter how they feel about the characters.  Yes, you can have a fully character-driven scene or story, with no real tension from the plot, but that won’t sustain a full-length novel very well.

I think the ‘appropriate stakes to the conflict’ part is something that is often a stumbling block.  Not that you can’t sometimes overblow the stakes, hinging lives on a stand-up comedy routine as an example, but it’s usually best to keep them under wraps.  You especially can’t understate the stakes.  The stakes to a gunfight, for example, needs to, at the least, be the lives of the protagonists, if not more, otherwise there is no tension and no investment.  Risk, sacrifice, and threat are all vital to creating that investment we all desire, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or social.

What techniques and elements do you use to ensure that your readers care?  If you’re just a reader, what do you look for in the characters that you do invest it?  Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Plot and Motivation: Exposition in Motion a.k.a. Smoothing the Info Dump

My apologies for the quietude around these parts for the last few days!  There is a lot in the works for me at the moment.  Incorruptible is back from the editor’s so the last revisions and changes need to be made, I am still waist-deep in The Twelfth Labor‘s first draft, I have more content to write for Doppel, and there’s plenty of books to devour to try to catch up during my request hiatus.

Still, that won’t keep me from putting my hunger-addled mind to musing about more writing topics.  Today’s Plot and Motivation is going to tackle an approach to exposition that might help keep the Info Dump blues away.  So roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work!

Now, it is very easy to want to info dump.  Especially if you’re working in a genre or world that is radically different from the real world, a writer can feel tremendous pressure to get the reader up to speed.  After all, the plot is waiting and the readers need essential information to understand it, right?  Best to get all this exposition out of the way as soon as possible and be done with it.

The thing is that excessive exposition ruins your pacing, shooting dramatic tension in the head before it even has a chance to build.  It doesn’t matter where in the story you put an info dump, it almost always has this effect.  So how can you get your information across without leading to large blocks of explanations?

The first vital step is figuring out what exactly your reader *really needs* to know.  You would be surprised, perhaps, how little that can turn out to be.  Again, it is all about giving the reader the benefit of the doubt that they are smart enough to pick up on inferrence and foreshadowing.  You can get a lot across without directly saying every little fact.

Once you have distilled down the information to the bare essentials of what the reader needs, you can then distribute it into your plot.  The point is not to dole out all vital information in one sitting but to instead weave those facts into the flow of the scenes.  That isn’t to say you can’t bring up a factoid before it becomes vital.  If you do that, it will make new revelations seem more and more like sudden writing inventions as opposed to planned parts of the story.

However, you can usually find a way to bring up facts and exposition in a more staggered manner than in one solid dump.  It can certainly take time and several revisions to get it to where it needs to be, nuanced but not mystifying, but it’s well worth the work to do so.

Planning a staggered exposition like this not only helps to preserve pacing, it can also be used to heighten intrigue, raise reader interest in the story, and cause your readers to be more invested.  It becomes obvious to them early on that there are more facts, more history, more insights hidden throughout the book instead of being bored with all the need to know all at once.  They will want to dig deeper and continue to find out those facts, seeing if each new answer matches their own expectations drawn from the foreshadowing.  That reader engagement will do wonders for the enjoyment of your book.

This isn’t even the only way to tackle this problem.  What other avenues do you use to work in exposition in your writing?  Feel free to share with us below!

Until next time, good luck and good writing!