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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Making Shallow Characters Relatable

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Gone with the Wind - Novel Conclusions Blog - Writing Blog - Writing Tips

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell via Amazon

No one thinks they’re shallow (even if others do), and I’m of the belief that it’s very important for your characters to be somewhat relatable in order to matter.  So if a story requires a very shallow character, how do we make that character matter?

For starters, remember that even though these characters are shallow at first glance, there is more to them than meets the eye — and it’s our job as writers to bring that out.  There are a few different strategies to show readers why they should care about a seemingly shallow character:

Give the character context.  In the opening chapter of Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara doesn’t care one whit about the coming war (which will be the American Civil War).  In fact, Scarlett tells the Tarleton twins:

If you say ‘war’ just once more, I’ll go in the house and shut the door. I’ve never gotten so tired of any one word in my life as ‘war,’ unless it’s ‘secession.’

Although this makes Scarlett pretty shallow up front, Mitchell gradually shades in the character to give us more about her background and make her more relatable in the context of the story, in the context of the pre-Civil War era.

Give the character an arc that fundamentally changes them.  In the more recent Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, main character Tally Youngblood was so shallow in the first chunk of the book that I almost couldn’t keep reading.  At first, she only cares about being like everyone else.  However, (mild spoiler ahead…) Westerfeld turns this around by revealing the outside world to Tally a little bit at a time, almost painfully slowly at times, gradually changing Tally’s perspective to be dramatically different — and much deeper — than when we first met her.

Shape the narration.  Guiding the point of view also gives the reader subtle clues that there is more to come.  Mitchell does this masterfully, describing Scarlett in the first chapter of Gone with the Wind:

She meant what she said, for she could never long endure any conversation of which she was not the chief subject. But she smiled when she spoke, consciously deepening her dimple and fluttering her bristly black lashes as swiftly as butterflies’ wings. The boys were enchanted, as she had intended them to be, and they hastened to apologize.

These are not things Scarlett could have said about herself, and the implication here is that Scarlett knows what she’s doing and has a grand plan for her situation.  As we get further along in the novel, we come to find out that Scarlett is a master manipulator, and whether we agree with her motives or not, she continues to surprise us and keep us involved in the story.

What else can we do to make shallow characters more relatable?

P.S. For more about Scarlett’s motives, check out Finding Character Motives.

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5 Great Books to Read in 2016

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Neil Gaiman - Graveyard Book - Novel Conclusions - writing blog - literary blog

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book via Amazon

2016 is looking like a pretty great year on the reading front, y’all. Although I may also reread the Outlander series for the third time (the time travel, the saga, the accents, oh my…), I plan on hitting up a few books that have either been sitting on my shelf for a while or I’ve had my eye on. Here is a very abbreviated version of my to-be-read list in the next couple months:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Why:  Everything by Neil Gaiman draws you in and builds a world around you.  My favorite of Gaiman’s that I’ve read so far is The Ocean at the End of the Lane, although I’ve loved every one of his books that I’ve read except American Gods – that one was a little too graphic for me.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Why:  Her lush characters and stories swirl around you like mist.  They hang about in your mind and make you think, not to mention that main character Gemma in A Great and Terrible Beauty was sharp and involving.  Also, the second novel in this series came out, which means that as soon as I fall in love with The Diviners, I won’t have to wait to read the second book – a little silly, I know.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Why:  I have heard so many amazing things about this book. People are talking about it even now, several years later, not to mention the fact that Nathan Bransford endorsed it.  Also, I met the manager of The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA at a birthday party last year, and she said Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs (who were married at The Last Bookstore apparently, cool!) are pretty awesome people, which made me even more curious about their books.  (P.S. Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series is fascinating — totally worth checking out.)

Split Second by Kasie West
Why:  I saw Pivot Point on my shelf recently and realized that I have to find out what happens to Addie, who did the noble but painful thing in the first book. Does it pay off for her?  If you haven’t read Pivot Point, I highly recommend it; it walks the line of contemporary and speculative fiction cleanly and concisely.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
Why:  (A nonfiction pick, a little unusual for this blog, I know)  2016 is going to be a year of change.  I’d like to make some changes and work on making those changes into habits.  Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project, which I loved, and when I ran across Better than Before while perusing books at the airport, I had to pick it up.  Let’s all build some good habits together this year.

Have you read any of these books?  If so, what are your thoughts about them?  What are a few books you’re planning to read in 2016?

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