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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | D.O.A.


Have you ever had any dead characters hanging around your house, stinking up the place? I don’t mean characters who were poisoned, shot, or otherwise suffered a tragic but necessary demise for the sake of the plot. I’m talking about characters who never came to life.

My current WIP has come to a grinding halt at Chapter 6. I find myself avoiding the project, and luckily I have revisions on other manuscripts to keep me busy. Still, it’s sad to see a new story belly flop like this. The problem seems to be that my characters just aren’t real enough.

I usually have the opposite problem: my characters are too real. They sit at my dinner table. They bother me at work. I converse with them when I think I’m alone (often getting caught in the act by family members). I’ll take any excuse I can find to talk about them – even when nobody wants to hear about them. They develop their own personalities and take the story in directions I wasn’t expecting. Minor characters go down on the page with full-blown personalities that complement the role they’re going to play – even when I don’t yet know what that role will be!

So, what’s wrong with these characters? And how do I fix them? Do I even want to fix them?

I could ignore them for now and work on my revisions. Or, I could go back to the drawing board, ditch my plot outline, play around with the characters a little more and try to breathe some life into them.

Or, I could scrap the whole idea and explore something else from my idea file.

What do you do when the story doesn’t gel and the characters act like a bunch of stiffs from the morgue? How long do you fool around with a WIP before you say, RIP?

Meanwhile, I am seeking beta readers for the third draft of The Caged Graves. Does anybody have an interest and/or the time to give it a read?

11 Responses to D.O.A.

  1. Good question. I haven’t had this happen to me yet. I would like to see what others say about this.
    HAve a great day!

  2. Linda G. says:

    That HAS happened to me before, and boy I didn’t like it. I tried and tried to make things work out between us — bent over backwards giving them what I thought they wanted — but we just didn’t gel. So I wished them well and booted them back into the Great Fictive Ether from which I drew them. Maybe some other writer will find them, and they’ll all build a beautiful book together.

    I don’t know the right answer. I’m sure some “difficult” characters are totally worth it in the long run. But I prefer mine to be so “alive” to me that I couldn’t get rid of them if I tried.

  3. I cut one of the characters from my last novel because my CP couldn’t tell two of them apart. Hopefully the same won’t happen on my new wip. I added two friends who weren’t in the outline, and now I have to work on their characterizations before I can move onto the second draft.

  4. mshatch says:

    Just remember that all characters don’t have to be fleshed out to the nth degree; sopme of them are just window dressing. But if you want to flesh them out a little (not a lot), maybe give them quirks or something distinctive about their physical appearance. Maybe they mumble or scratch their head a lot, make a funny expression when thinking, never look you in the eye. Maybe that will help? Or maybe not and you’ll have to hire some new people.

  5. good luck, i dont know the cure

  6. Lenny Lee* says:

    hi miss dianne! yikes! toe tagged! ack! maybe you could need one of those strange voo dooers that raises up the dead. then you could change up to a zombie story. some of those steampunkers look like they could raise up a dead guy. ha ha. for me when its not working after lots of thinking and trying i just toss it out. one of my brothers says fix it or forget it.
    …hugs from lenny

  7. jcohen7523 says:

    Unfortunately I haven’t been blessed with a novel in my head to write. However, with my failed screenplays, if I got stuck I imagined certain actors in the roles. Then I’d literally imagine how they’d run with the character. I’d envision a movie trailer in my head if you will. Kinda crazy, but you never know. Oh and if that works I want 10% of your sales…ok 8%, but that’s my final offer. BTW…if you have other books to promote I have a free listing site for artists and authors at bloggerdise.com

  8. Copyboy says:

    oops. the jcohen7523 comment was me.

  9. Vicki Rocho says:

    When that happened to me, I shelved the project until I could think of something to do with it. I like the story line, but it is falling FLAT!

    I’m not sure how much help I am, but I can give it a read if you’re still looking…

  10. Kate says:

    If my characters aren’t screaming at me after 10k words, I usually table the project and start working on something else. It sounds like you have several other projects to keep you busy. Maybe these characters will naturally pop up in a future story of yours. Or maybe some future character will want to dive into this story and you’ll be able to come back to it. Good luck.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone! I think you’re right — if the characters aren’t working for me, then there’s something not right. The kindest option (for these characters) is that my attention is too divided right now. I’m going to focus on my revision work and let this idea just simmer on the backburner for awhile. I’ll take it off the stove when I can give it my full attention — and then see if it’s worth serving.