1. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    Adding depth to a story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by J_F, Jul 3, 2009.

    I always feel like my stories lack depth as I write them. I'm not sure if I'm correct on my suspicion, or if I'm just being self-conscious, but whenever I finish a short story it feels like the plot and characters are superficial and contrived. For plot, I try to add nuggets of exposition, and for characters dialog and reactions to conflicts, but I'm not sure if these are effective in achieving a good level of depth. I guess that's based on the ability of the writer, but I'm wondering what the general consensus is about depth in writing a story. Is it through the techniques I stated? Or is there an undefined art to it?
     
  2. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Might I suggest getting another opinion on your story's death? As you said, you could just be self-conscious, so get another opinion on it and see where you might need to make some improvements.
     
  3. heathertarot
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    heathertarot New Member

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    Have you posted any for review on this site yet? Start there and people will give you feedback. Also, one suggestion, write true stories about things and people you have been involved in.
     
  4. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    There are a couple ways of adding depth to the story. The best way I know is to make the protagonist have multiple reasons to achieve his goal- it's one thing if Destiny says so, it's another if he's doing it to save the love of his life, to protect his family, to prove himself to his teacher, to find the last part of the Crown of Somethingorother, and also because the king promised him enough money to buy his father's farm back from Evilbastard the trader. Multiple concurrent story threads add a load of depth right off the bat.

    Though, I'm missing what you mean by 'depth.' Do you mean symbolism, or story depth, or story complexity, or...?
     
  5. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    I guess by depth I mean a rounded story, a story that changes and presents new interpretations. The opposite would be a linear story, with one thought, one direction, little character development. That's what I feel blights my stories, and thus makes them less interesting. The example you present is a good example of what I mean by depth.

    I'll give you an example of mine to chew on. In a story I wrote about a month ago, a daughter brings her elderly mother to a euthanasia clinic to die. By law, the daughter must watch behind a screen glass as a 'witness' to the procedure. To add character depth, I portrayed the mother as bitter and self-denying and the daughter as meek and empathetic, who eventually takes on some of her mother's bitterness when the story ends. I didn't get a lot of comments on the story, as I did post it on here and on a few other sites. Only comments I got regarded punctuation. This may be for a whole other reason, but I re-read the story many times and the only reason I could rack was that I failed to show the desired depth in the two characters.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    J F,

    Consider trying to locate a local or online crit group to share your work with and gain insight or opinions on your concerns. A quality group isn't always easy to find but very helpful once one is found.

    Terry
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    What was the main character's goal in the story example you gave?
     
  8. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    JF, I hate to sound harsh, but your story about Lucy and Mary that you posted, was just not good. It wasn't just a lack of depth in character development, which was greatly lacking, it was the lack of maturity for both characters. They are written like they are two teenagers going through this situation. Mary's actions and reactions were annoyingly childish, and Lucy's behavior was not as clearly defined as you may have wanted it to be.

    You jump around a lot between the two character's heads. For a piece this emotionally dynamic it should be told from just one character's POV. In this case I would choose Mary's POV to tell the story from. Jumping back and forth does nothing for the reader except to confuse us and make us feel mildly schizophrenic.

    Mary's visions of memories, and her thoughts are disjointed and sometimes run on into current events leaving the reader confused as to if it is a memory or something happening right now.

    I would suggest finding a writing workshop, like a weekend class or something (I know they have them in my small town at the community college) or get involved with a group of writers you can see face to face.

    You have a lot to keep practicing on as far as telling a story goes. While the idea you had for that story was good, the telling of it is what is important. Look through some of the threads here talking about showing vs telling. You did a lot of telling in your piece.

    It would take me easily two hours to give you a thorough critique of that piece, and I just don't have the time right now to do that. It's a lot to ask for people to critique your work and expect to get much more than a few little pointers. We're not being paid as teachers, which is what giving a proper critique should look like. So you are likely to not get much response when your work needs that much work.

    I'm not trying to be discouraging, as I think with practice and more learning of the craft, you will be a good writer. But right now you are in the learning stages and most people who can help you on message boards like this, to learn and grow as a writer, don't have time to help that indepthly.
     
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  9. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    Well I appreciate your honesty, and that probably explains why no one commented. I guess it was really that bad :redface:. I suppose the characters sounded like two teenagers because I'm a teenager myself, and in general I was out of my element with that particular story and the precision it required. There are no writing circles in my area, none that I can find, and I've gutted google for online short story communities but, yet again, I can't really find any (other than public message boards such as this).

    And I hate to sound mealy-mouthed under the spotlight of criticism, but I don't think that story reflects my ability. In objective honesty I think I'm capable of writing stories better than that, and I have. With that being said, I'm not denying I have a long way to go; I know that showing as opposed to telling is something I can grasp conceptually but I often lose sight of how to do it as I write. And character development -- it often boils down to me improvising, and again, I lose sight while I write of how to make a consistent, believable character. This thread has gone way off course, but at least I learned how shallow and annoying some of my characters are (I'm looking at that story while writing this post, and now that you mention it, there was definitely a brain-to-page discrepancy with the characters' actions; I thought I was writing something revealing but it was just pointless crap)
     
  10. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try to post more stories in the review room. Shoot me a reminder, and I'll be sure to post a critique. I really liked the critique bluebell80 just posted. That's the kind of detailed comments you get in a writing group.

    Back to the question of adding depth to a story, I think if you read a lot and specifically look at how various writers do it, that will give you the examples you need. You see it in the depth of the characters' personalities and their multitude of struggles, in the various choices they make--some good, some bad--which affect their movement towards their goal, and you see it in the supporting characters and those mini-storylines that serve into the main character's conflict and round out the story as a whole.

    Also, I totally identify with the "brain-to-page discrepancy", lol. I am forever struggling with that myself. :)
     
  11. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    JF, I'm glad I didn't offend you too badly. I was shocked at my first English teacher in college. I thought she was so harsh and every red mark I saw on my page reflected what a failure I actually was.

    After I finished that class, as much as I hated her, I actually learned something. My creative writing teacher was just as harsh, but not with the language issues, those he mostly ignored, but with showing over telling, finding my writers voice, and avoiding cliche things. I had a hard time that first year in his class, not with improving,but really listening to the criticism.

    During the second class I had with him, I was able to take his criticisms and really apply them to my writing. It improved it ten fold over the course of that class. My only problem with classes was the time constraints. I don't do well with deadlines. I get all perfectionist like and obsess about every little thing until I am forced to start all over again.

    I pick my own writing apart as harshly as I do others. I really try to pick out good things, things that really worked, while at the same time pointing out the things that work negatively against the story. I like to ask a lot of questions when I critique, not to be annoying, but to spark the creative response in the writer.

    I don't mind giving reviews to other writers, but the shorter the piece, the more likely I will respond. I prefer to see a snipit of the piece to point out issues that are probably occurring throughout the piece. But for me to read a full 2000 word short story, it just takes me too long and I don't critique the piece. I might read it, but I won't bother posting anything. I usually go for 500 - 1000 word stories for critique.

    I would be interested in seeing some of your work that you feel is good.

    Oh, as for being a teenager, that really has little to do with any thing in my view. Part of writing is being able to leave your own head, your own life, and put on someone else's. Nothing beats finding some people to model your characters after. Like the in the story you are referring to, finding an older woman with her elderly mother and see how they interact. Your mother and grandmother (if they are still living) are two good examples really close to home. Sure your examples may not interact the way your character's would, but their dialogs, way of speaking, and little conversationals that they use can help you make more realistic characters.

    You're character's don't have to sound like teenagers just because you are. Just like dialects, each generation has their sayings and most stick with them throughout their lives. An old hippie might still say "Groovy man." and use peace signs. AN older conservative white male might being just a little bit racist. An older woman might say "Oh my gosh, or oh my goodness." or even "thank my lucky stars." Granted these are all a bit cliche, you get my point.
     
  12. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    I've had two very good English teachers in my life, who always gave me copious criticism which, at first, only stressed me out and like you said made me feel like a failure, but after a while I shed the self-pity and developed a thicker skin, as I knew they wanted to help me because I guess they knew writing was a hobby of mine. Learning my writing sucks will always trigger a knee-jerk reaction ("oh god I'll never be a writer what am I doing") particularly with pieces where I have placed some sort of emotional stake, but it never holds for more than a few minutes.

    My most recent piece, which I just posted a few hours ago in general fiction, called "The Tidy Folk," I have mixed feelings about. It's a bit odd and I don't know what to make of it. However, I'm fairly confident it's better than my euthanasia story. The only part I flat-out dislike is the first part -- I had trouble with the exposition and I know I did too much telling in there.

    "The Grotto," which I finished about two weeks ago and is posted under science fiction, is one of my favourite creations. Not because I think it's fantastically written, but I just like the way it ended up. And I like the setting (I really should just stick to pure SF).

    Oh, and I know I don't have to make my characters sound adolescent. I never consciously try to do it, unless they actually are teenagers, but I guess it seeps through. You are right, I should be traversing the minds of others and not my own when developing characters. For some reason in my euthanasia story, I based the mother on my aunt and the daughter on my childhood crossing guard. I got caught up with the appearances of my characters and forgot about their particular personalities. Somewhere along the line, the crossing-guard and distant aunt relationship just didn't mesh with what I had in mind for my story >_>
     

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