Friday, April 10, 2009

Bringing Back The Spark—Writing Three-Dimensional.

~Sia McKye~

To me, the connotation of “spark” is putting life in your writing. I think you can have a distinct voice and still not quite have the spark there. For me, it’s that moment when my characters become real, or come to life on the pages. They act and react realistically, and not always as I may have originally envisioned the situation. It’s not so much you, the author, writing their lines…more like you as the author are channeling your character’s lives on to the pages of your story.

One of the ways I know I haven’t gotten the spark is when I’ve written something and there is that niggling feeling that tells me something isn’t right or something is off in this scene. It feels …flat. It might be that I’m trying to force my characters into a situation, or plot area, they wouldn’t be in, or have them reacting in a way, given their backgrounds, they wouldn’t. Or I’m trying to take the easy way out in solving their problems.

I think about how an actor approaches a role. As an actor, you have to step into your character, see who they are, how they react, understand what their goals are, what their motivations are, and what their conflicts are. Once you understand those things, then you know how these characters will act and react in pretty much any situation. You have to be able to do that to portray them in a play or on the screen. An actor can know the character they are depicting so well, that if a scene is rewritten they can and will argue it isn’t right, the character wouldn’t do this or that.

I think as a writer we need to do the same. We have to know our characters well to do justice to them. Some writers put together elaborate files on each character, likes, dislikes, favorite colors, etc. My files aren’t that elaborate. Many times I don’t have the character file when I start my story. I do by the end of the story. I usually write the beginning of the story. My file grows as I write. This is also where I dump exposition edits I’ve done that define my characters, things I need to know, but my reader doesn’t.

There are times when something doesn’t feel right but I can’t put a finger on it, other than my characters are feeling like one-dimensional paperdolls. It’s time for what I call Dr. Sia’s couch time. I put my characters on the psych couch and start analyzing them. I will sit down and write out each main character’s goals, motivations, external and internal conflict. I do this with the villain too. By the time I’m finished, sometimes before I’ve finished, I usually have that ah-ha moment and I can see clearly where I went wrong. The black moment is in the wrong place, or I’m making it a soft gray moment rather than black, maybe my hooks to draw my reader forward are dull or indistinct—not good. Seeing what’s wrong may also mean some rewrites but it puts me back on track and my characters and story again become three-dimensional. It makes their reaction to conflict sharper. Reaching their goals sweeter. It makes a better story.

Life is good again because my characters are back to being real people acting and reacting realistically.
The spark is back and the one-dimensional paperdolls are gone.


Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction. Sia has completed a single title romance trilogy and is busy at work on a fun paranormal series.


Kat Sheridan said...

Let me start by saying how much I love the pictures! Ooo, sparkly! LOL! And what a great article! I do the GMC spreadsheet right up front, when I first get the story idea. I tweak it as I go along, when motivations, etc. pop up that I hadn't expected. I also refer back to that spreadsheet when it feels as if I've gotten off track; it reminds me, "Oh yes, this is the thing I need to solve, not that other distracting thing that doesn't belong in the story."

And yes, when you see that "spark", you know it. It's like touching a live wire; that tingle that tells you intuitively that yes, this is good! It's that feeling I think we all seek. It's why we write; because we are addicted to that "sparkly" feeling!

Judi Fennell said...

You KNEW you'd get me over here with mention of Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, sparkles and magic, didn't you?"! ;)

Sometimes I have to do something similar; others the characters won't shut up and I just for it. Kind of like I have to do right now b/c I'm at a tense scene in the book when everyone's coming together the the ca-ca might hit the fan (but since we're under the sea, not really. maybe the propeller?)

~Sia McKye~ said...

LMAO! Let's just say, I knew Cinderella and Fairy Godmothers were a lure, Judi. Since you started writing In Over Her Head series, everything Mer and the 7 seas, I've learned how to bait the hook, so to speak and knowing your love for fairy tales!

Actually, I had Bippidy-Boppidy-Boo running through my head last night when I was writing this. I think I was channeling up a Fairy Godmother to help me, since I was so tired.

Nancy J. Parra said...

"Dr. Sia's couch time-" Love it!

Great post- cheers!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Yah, did it for 15 years as a counselor but I don't get paid here, lol! Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. :-)

Helen Ginger said...

Trust your characters. If you know them well enough, they'll lead you. Good post.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Helen. I agree with you, it's when I start trying to lead them the trouble begins, lol!

Pat Bertram said...

Many authors have that experience of channeling their characters' lives onto the page (or computer screen) but I never have.
My characters take on reality through the choices I make for them, but they never take over. It's possible to write three-dimensional characters without that channeling, at least I hope it is, or I'd better throw in the paper towel.

aries18 said...

Great article, Sia. Love the pics and ohhh, the sparklies!

I find my writing is more authentic when I visit inside my characters heads, kind of a "step-in" visit. I try to learn how they feel, what is their philosophy of life, their personal history. I do that when I write the bios more than when I'm writing the first draft. I want to know them inside-out before I place them in trouble. LOL

Hmmm, channeling...sounds like fun.
Thanks for your great blog.


Sun Singer said...

Nice thoughts, Sia. When the characters get to help chart their own courses, they come out more real--like the Velveteen Rabbit.


Anonymous said...


Awesome blog! And so true. Writing is an odd kind of job. It really calls for a special person. One who stands with a foot on both sides of reality.

I've found You really can't WRITE a Hero, or TALK for your hero...all you can do is listen to him, because if you don't listen to him and write what he tells you, he won't be real to the readers.

All you can do as a writer is wait and listen until the hero starts talking to you.

Until he does, I've found the best I can do is to do my research - while he's still silent, because I've also found, once my hero does start talking he usually won't shut up!

So enjoy the peace of mind and do your research then be ready when he gets going! OH, and don't get me started on when your H&H start arguing and fighting between themselves for POV's...or when they talk at the same time...Yeah, I said this was a crazy business - one that needed a "Special" Kind of crazy person...didn't I? LOL

Great Blog!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent post, Sia. And good ideas for having complicated characters, just like us humans! Which is why we prefer reading about the full characters, instead of "paper dolls".

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hawk, lmao! So true though. As a pantzer, that's about how goes for me.

I think for those that outline, plan and plot everything out, it's a foreign thing to hear someone say, I'm waiting for my to start talking.

Hey, I LOVED your blog today! Hugs right back atcha!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Conda, we want our stories to reflect life and so they need to feel real and not flat. Paperdolls are pretty, but not as much fun to play with as a real doll, lol!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Pat, I'm thinking we have two different methods of writing.

As a pantzer, there's not quite as much leeway allowed with characters as I seem to be saying. The difference is, for me anyway, much of the story lives in my head for sometime before I commit it to paper. During that time, I get to know the characters, build them until they become real to me. Once they are real to me and then I put them on paper. By that time, I've 'seen' various scenes, plot points, and dialog. So when I say I channel them, I'm letting them out of the world in my mind, where they may have lived for some months and allowing them to immigrate to a world of their own on my computer. That's as close as I can come to explain it.

Different methods, same results. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Malcoln! Great to see you and I agree.

Hope your Sunday was a grand one!