Multi-layering, or depth, in writing is as important as depth in painting. One-dimensional art is color-book drawing compared to the painting of, say, Rembrandt or Gauguin. In literature, the comparison may not be as stark on the surface, but the experience is just as flat.
Patti's comment to Bonnie's post on Monday gives us a great visual of what I mean. "Subtext is the difference between looking across a glinting lake, and swimming through the bottom weeds, letting them slide across your body." What a great analogy. But how do you add that kind of depth to your writing? How do you make it three-dimensional so that your readers want to dive in? Subtext, about which Bonnie so capably educated us on Monday, is one very important way. Conflict and unique plot--or a unique method of conveying the plot--are equally important. I'm about to begin life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers, a story which consists entirely of notes between a mother and daughter, posted on their refrigerator. Unique? Absolutely. I can't wait to, well, dive in.
To me, one of the most important elements to three-dimensional writing is characterization, to follow Debbie's lead from Wednesday's post. This is true even in plot-driven stories. As Lajos Egri says in his book The Art of Creative Writing, "living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing." Does this mean we must never write about ordinary people? Certainly not. Lori Benton, in her comment Wednesday, made the point, "the characters that have touched me most deeply and stayed with me the longest...were ordinary folk placed into extraordinary circumstances, called upon to find the mettle...to journey through those circumstances."
In fact, "ordinary people in extraordinary situations" is the hearbeat of good fiction. Nothing else allows us to dive into a character's world as deeply as relatability. That doesn't mean I only want to read about characters like myself; but it does mean the character that will hold me in their story world has to have flaws, fears and failures...because I do. They must be misunderstood, and have goals and desires they're willing to stake everything on. They can be young or old, male or female, human or hobbit--but what they must be is real.
Nothing kills a character or a story more completely than cliche. "Cliches are like fast food hamburgers. No matter what city you eat them in...the burgers taste the same." So says William Brohaugh in Write Tight. He's absolutely correct. And cliches are more than overused phrases. They're overused plots, overused character traits, overused anything; the complete opposite of fresh and inviting. The heroine isn't always beautiful. The bad guy doesn't always wear black. The protagonist's life isn't--cannot be--smooth sailing if I'm to care about them. Don't give me paper doll people, don't give me perfection, please. Give me someone to yell at, to cry with, to learn from, even to abhor, or I'll be a stone skipping over the surface of your book on my way to deeper water.
Who's the most unlikely character you've related to lately? Why? What have you learned from that?