February 10th, 2014

Cheap Writing Hacks: Characters

I’ve been reading tonnes and tonnes lately, which I guess I always do, but I’ve also been tired and busy and grouchy, and thus less patient with the lousy stuff. There’s a list of cheap writing hacks that I’ve noticed over the years–things we might do in fiction with plot or characters not because it makes sense or is interesting, but because it makes the writer’s life easier. Of course, I’m a giant snob, but to my mind they are cheating–even when I do it myself, I’m conscious of cheating–I’ll edit or rewrite or junk the story if I can’t fix it. Either I write what the fictional universe of the story demands or I don’t get to write the story–or at least, that’s the ideal I’m striving for.

In my current snarky mood, I have been mentally listing the fictional dodges I see most often–here’s a few about characters. Let’s be honest: character is what I care most about and I may well have a few unconscious hacks in other areas that aren’t priorities for me in my writing. But I’ll try to cover them later. If I’m not too tired. If you think of more hacks, about character writing or anything else, please comment to add to the list:

Prenaturally intelligent/wise-beyond-their-years children are written by people unable to write believable kid dialogue. So they about write short, slightly odd adults who like video games.

Loners are wildly popular in short stories and novels. There are any number of reasons why this is, but I suspect that a certain percentage of it is because it’s extremely hard to create the impression of a complex, interconnected social world without giving it undue space if that’s not what the story is actually about. The worst is in YA novels, because for kids their varying levels of friends and acquaintances are the whole world, but inevitably YA novels give protagonists one friend apiece, and rarely even mention other acquaintances by name.

Only children/people isolated from their families/people whose families are dead: see previous point.

Freelancers and other people with flexible schedules: see previous point but also this is a research failing. For some full-time writers, it’s very hard to imagine what a structured scheduled lifestyle with enforced contact with strangers and/or people they don’t like. So they give the characters a “freelance” gig that they spend almost no time on, and that never interferes with anything or causes them to have to do anything they wouldn’t have done anyway.

Villains are people who have no motivation other than to oppose the protagonist of a book or story, and seem to have little back story or indeed personality beyond their evilness. These people are distinct from fully imagined assholes, which everyone is welcome to write about all the time because they are so interesting.

Horrible marriages for apparently no reason: Fiction is often populated by spousal villains–jerkfaces that exist to thwart the main characters but are also somehow married to them. They have no positive characteristics and no one seems remember why they hooked up in the first place but now here we are…


Sorry for the snarkfest–I have had a headache for nearly a week now. Hopefully I will feel better soon and write something nice about something…

2 Responses to “Cheap Writing Hacks: Characters”

  • Jeff Bursey says:

    Suggested add-ins:

    — male characters who we are introduced to when they are age 33

    — a set of characters who do not live horrible lives in a gulag or something but who are not, due to the writer’s choice, able to make one single joke

    — professors who are never shown to be (a) working or (b) who are fired but never have a union stand up for them (as in _The Corrections_).


  • Rebecca says:

    Ha, Jeff, for sure, the illegal firings AND the impossible hirings–like people getting jobs that they are completely unqualified for because someone “likes their moxie” (and it is convenient for the plot).

  • Leave a Reply

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

Now and Next

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Me

Good Reads

What People are saying!


Search the site