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Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner


Based on CPR FOR DEAD OR LIFELESS FICTION {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships} by Karen S. Wiesner

This is the second of three posts focusing on how to spot dead or lifeless characters, plots, and relationships in your fiction

 It should be simple to spot dead or lifeless CPR conditions in our characters, plots, and relationships, I know, but it's unfortunately anything but. I feel your pain in identifying dead or lifeless CPR elements because it's a question that been with me from the very first book I wrote. With the need to identify dead or lifeless CPR development in mind, let's go over some general ways that should pinpoint whether any aspect is dead or merely lifeless. In the chapters that follow, identification will allow us to give the lacking areas either the kiss of life or a jolt of electricity. 

Poking and prodding your characters, plots, and relationships in all the compass points with sketches should exhibit some reaction one way or the other. When you start asking questions about all of these things, getting absolutely no response--beyond a blank, cadaverous stare--is clear enough. Yup, dead. Time of death? The moment of execution. (Forgive the really bad pun.)

Merely lifeless core elements, however, may show a few signs of life and that's what makes lethargy in development so hard to spot. As we said earlier, conceivably, some evidence of development can allow those areas that are at least functional to carry around the dead elements. In these cases where the book is already published and the functional elements are hoisting the dead ones in a sack over the shoulder, readers may even overlook your failure because the solid development of those one or two core elements gives the reader part of what he's seeking.

The identification of partial necrosis is almost always deeply startling to readers. There are times when I'm reading a story I'm enjoying but not in an in overwhelmed, obsessive way that I'll suddenly visualize the author's hand holding the character as if she's a puppet or a dead body, forcing a certain situation on the poor thing. That hand will move the character around in response to action, even thrusting another story puppet/dead body up against her in a contrived effort to make something happen between the two that's equally artificial, awkward, and not a little disturbing.

One aspect or another in a story like this is undeveloped or underdeveloped and, in the course of reading, I'll usually, eventually, figure out what's lacking. Maybe the main or secondary characters have no obvious signs of life, nothing that makes them unique, no legitimate personality, personal goals or motivations. A main character's conflicts as they're portrayed may not convince me she truly cares about them, has an intensely personal investment in them, or that they're cohesive with what's been set up as who this person is and what's she's all about in other aspects.

Whether the conflicts are internal or external, the story may not feel like it's actually hers. Events are randomly happening to her, and there's no personal connection to them. She's not authentically motivated to act in the face of what's happening to her. It may be easier for her to run away--and that goal at least may feel legit. When she's compelled to react, jerky clunkiness may be the result, more robotic than flesh and blood.

Also, her relationships might not seem quite realistic and deeply planted, growing enough to feel warm and realistic. Maybe she's going through the motions with these people who are part of her life, but even those most intimate ones don't go in-depth enough to spark emotion in me, as the reader. In the worst case scenario, I've read romance stories where relationships are integral to the genre yet those attachments had little or no depth, dimension, desire, or connection between two people who were supposed to be falling in love and making romantic, reading hearts swoon. If a romance story doesn't include strong, profoundly emotional relationships, it's failed on the most elementary level.

I've also read books and even series--some of them that were actually published--where the author has deigned to give a main character a first name, neglected the last, and sometimes doesn't bother with physical descriptions or details about the past nor "drive" for the future that would fully flesh out the character. Plots and conflicts (and the corresponding, crucial goals and motivations) are almost always spur of the moment, created scene by scene, no setup, no buildup, no curiosity, and certainly no tension. The relationships feel cold, stilted, off-focus, frequently with secondary characters that serve no other purpose in the story beyond being soundboards for the main character or, worse, merely bulking up the word count. Even if a minor effort has been made to plant foundational seeds of character, plot, and relationship, so often those seeds aren't developed and advanced properly or at all throughout the subsequent scenes in the book. They're buried so deep, it's not possible for them to come out to see the light of day and flourish.

In Part 3, we'll talk more about how to spot dead or lifeless CPR development.

Have you ever read a book with dead or lifeless plots? Leave a comment to tell me about it!

Happy writing!

Find out more about CPR FOR DEAD OR LIFELESS FICTION here:

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

This post first appeared on Alien Romances, please read the originial post: here

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