Do Your Characters Suffer from Mid-plot Crisis?

How often have we heard of middle-aged people suddenly feeling lost. They leave their families and friends, jobs and homes to go off and ‘find themselves.’ They’re tired of being defined by their roles (wife, mother, husband, father) or being typecast by their occupations. What does this have to do with writing? Your characters may have the same issues.

All too often, an editor will find a story peopled not by characters but by roles. Instead of well-rounded individual characters, the author inserts stereotypes for the sake of the plot. This can happen for a variety of reasons.

If a writer  creates a story as a ‘lesson,’ it’s easy to fall into the trap of using ‘stock’ characters– insert annoying younger sister here, new kid at school there. But a ‘lesson’ should never control a story. A plot should evolve organically from a strong main character. A character who is an individual, not a ‘role’, will have flaws and weaknesses that will create a problem. He will also have strengths that allow him to grow and overcome the obstacles. Evil stepmothers and plucky orphans may fill fables and fairytales, but they do not engage today’s reader. Even young children are looking for three-dimensional characters with interesting personalities.

The restraints of picture books and magazine stories can also tempt a writer to fall back on a ‘role’ instead of a character. Writers may feel trapped by the limited word count. How can they develop a character when they only have a few pages and a bare minimum of words to work with? Yet editors tell us that they are looking for strong, quirky characters in picture books; characters that leap off the page and into a reader’s heart.

Secondary characters are another area where a writer can become lazy and take a ‘role’ off the shelf. Secondary characters shouldn’t upstage the main character, but they still need to be well- rounded individuals. Think of your favorite movies and all of the great character actors who won Oscars for supporting roles. Your supporting cast should be just as strong.

So read over your work in progress. Stop and get to know your characters. Make sure they are characters and not prepackaged ‘roles.’ Is that younger sister a person or just defined by her sibling relationship? Is the young princess real when she takes off her crown? Talk to each one of your characters. Let them break away from their ‘role’ or occupation. Make sure you let each one ‘find himself.’ Your story will benefit if they do. Nothing adds zest to a plot like a lively set of ‘characters’ with character.



About roxanne werner

Mild mannered mom by day, free time lost in my imagination. My journey started with Santa. Every year I raced to the Christmas tree and searched until I found the special present, the heavy one, signed 'love Santa'--a book. I would curl up and start reading, often not coming up for air until the story was done. As an adult I still look for the one special present under my tree, signed from Santa. It's the heavy one I open first--a new book, a new world to explore. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey but reading let me travel through space and time. I visited the future with H.G. Wells, Middle Earth with J.R.R.Tolkien. I had the best of companions, characters who made me laugh, cry, and catch my breath. My sixth grade teacher opened up another world for me. Each week we were assigned to write a story. I had made up stories in my head before, but never attempted to write them down. It was the best homework I ever had. I couldn't wait to put down my ideas and create characters of my own. I was hooked on writing. Time passed and though I remained an avid reader, writing was put aside. I had a family to raise and a full time job. Now that my son is going to be sixteen, I'm getting ready to retire my 'mom hat.' Two years ago I decided to pursue writing as more than a hobby. I packed up my imagination, a pen, my PC, mustered up my courage, and began a new journey. It's been filled with ups and downs, but I won't ever go back. Like Frodo, I've learned there's a big wide world out there. Once you take one step out of your door, you are swept up and taken for an adventure. It's scary and wonderful. I've made great friends and learned so much. If I'm brave and don't give up, one day a child will pick up a heavy present under their tree and open it to find one of my stories.
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