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Submitted on
March 5, 2013
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After being on DeviantArt for a few years now, I've noticed patterns in people's stories. Patterns, that I can't say I've ever seen until I started using the internet. I believe that's because these kind of patterns are thoroughly unprofessional. The pattern in short is this:

Character = victim
Plot = bad things happening to said victim

Maybe this sounds harsh. It's not if you understand that is ALL there is to these stories. They take any character, hurl them into a tragedy and that's it.

Let's get this straight: We do not know your character well enough to care about them yet. No matter how bloody and gutty their injuries are, no matter how many of their family members are deceased, no matter what their boyfriend did to them, no matter what kind of disease they have, WE. DO. NOT. CARE!!!!!
These kind of things are sad in themselves, but WHO is this person we're supposed to feel so horrible for? Establish THAT. It should be your absolute FIRST priority: no exceptions.

No more pasting faces onto the same cardboard-cut-out sob story protagonist.
If you want readers to care, you must FIRST GIVE THEM A HUMAN BEING TO CARE FOR.

If you don't, yes of course you are still going to get comments from emotional people who find your story intriguing. That is not the point.
The absolute WORST thing you can do is (I hate saying this), taking comments from people on the internet seriously (about your writing, that is).
People who have no CLUE about literature will post comments on the most unprofessional writings and say things like, "This made me cry. You are like the next J.K Rowling."

All I'm saying is that if you think things like Twilight are insults to literature, I beg you to take the advice given above. If not, what can I say but: carry on. Let the age of Mary Sue begin.

We need to remember: a rich story is made up of so much more than only one element; it can't rely only on being "dark," or "tragic" or "romantic." These things are for bringing out emotion. It's ESSENTIAL that there is something worth being emotional ABOUT.
That is how you tell a beautiful story.

And even then, if you give us something we truly care about, you'll realize "I can make something even less tragic happen and it will have a much greater effect now."
Sometimes you'll even realize that being subtle is even more disturbing and "dark" than going all out.

I said it before, I'll say it again: drama is the anti-suspense. Drama needs something to feed on or else it is dead.
It's up to you to make casual, every-day scenes interesting too.
Humor is a particularly wonderful tool for making characters appealing. The more appealing the character, the more the audience will care when they suffer.

Think of your favorite cartoon character. Now imagine if they died. Not a funny, cartoon-ish death where we know that they'll be all right again in three seconds.
Pretend they came to a permanent end that was actually portrayed very tragically and non-sarcastically.
Kind of leaves you with a disturbed feeling, doesn't it? If this is the way you want your audience to feel about your characters, then follow this example. It doesn't mean your character has to be as silly as a cartoon character, it just means we should feel like we know them in such a way that we can feel their pain.

In short: don't give us another card-board soap opera. Give us something to love.
No more "I'm going to drench this character in blood and my story will automatically be deep!" If that's as deep as you can get, you must be very shallow indeed.


I'm saying that introducing the character should be first *priority,* not necessarily the first thing in the story. The point being, don't write a story that you worry about the character second to the soap opera.
Of course many stories (Harry Potter included) start off with bad things happening. This is because they're crucial to setting up the entire story. The point is not to expect your audience to be scandalized yet.

Also, when you read this guide, assume I'm talking about writing seriously. I'm not picking on those of you writing for practice/fun/etc.
This is a concern because things like this are being published these days. If this isn't your goal, carry on by all means.

I posted this because it's getting to the point where there is no unique style. This is the style that most beginners (and therefore most people) tend to use. I'm not picking on beginners, just pointing out not to settle with the first, most obvious style of writing that no one encourages them to grow beyond.
Are there people who enjoy this kind of writing? Of course. But why is it all we should be content with?

The attitude should be something like this: make the character deep enough for whatever you're writing.
If it's a short deviation, naturally less so than in a novel.
Same if it's not the point of the thing you're writing (say you're just trying to bring out a moral or something).
However, if you expect to write a sob story this is highly important.
I'm sure I'll be coming back and adding to this every now and then.
Comments, especially long ones are welcome! I love discussing writing!

If you want to see more, please read:
List of Cliches in Writing: [link]
Explanation of Mary Sue: [link]
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Daily Deviation

Given 2013-06-09
How Not to Tell a Story by ~MakingFunOfStuff Suggester writes: A hard, but strong article with the right message. ( Suggested by GrimFace242 and Featured by Beccalicious )
Robotic-Mind Featured By Owner 4 days ago
I love your stuff about bad writing! I'm 13 and I'm no professional writer, but I know that you should take tips about how to write well and study.
Dachsiribo Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Great article. I'll definitely keep this in mind when I pick up writing again. Thank you!

Congratulations on the Daily Deviation, by the way.
Legacyhunter Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Very much agree. This really refreshes my mind and made me see clearer. I'll be 100% sure to take this as a good advice for further improvements. Thank you!
DanielleIvanova Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
While I was reading this, especially the part about humour being a nice way to define your character and make your readers care about him/her, I thought about Terry Pratchett. Don't know if you ever read any of his Discworld novels but they are all coloured by a very peculiar and unique sense of humour and all his characters are described in a very caricatural way, including some of the events in their lives that are very dramatic, life-threatening even. And then in one of the books during a possibly catastrophic risk of war the greatest trouble for the main protagonist is going home exactly ON TIME to read his son to sleep - an issue he gives priority to over his own life and the prevention of a massive, peace-endangering battle. And this problem strikes you so deeply while you're reading, the drama of it is so profound and the sympathy invoked so honest that it's both endearing and ludicrous. It makes you want to scold yourself and the protagonist for caring so much but you simply cannot help it. Now if that isn't a contrast to what you described! :D
CaitieBerry Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
I completely agree with you, here. If a bad thing happens to a character we've come to love and care about, it's a tragedy and we all feel horrible. But if it happens to a character we have no emotional attachment to, yes, we're going to feel bad that those things happened, but that's it. It's like hearing on the news that someone (whom you didn't know) has been murdered; yes, it sucks, but you feel only a vague sense of sympathy before moving on. And even that sympathy is based more on guilt than anything else -- you'd be a horrible person if you didn't feel sad that it happened, so you feel a token sense of sympathy for the victim and/or their family; then, obligation complete, you move on. Yes, I'm sorry your character was brutally raped by her stepbrothers; but I'm sorry more because I'm supposed to be than anything else. In actuality, to quote the late Douglas Adams, I don't give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys. Give me a reason to sympathize with your character; then I'll care.
MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
Good analogy.

In a good book, losing a character feels like losing a friend. 
In other books, it's just like hearing about a death on the news.
Both are sad, but which shows the better author?

I like that analogy lots.
CaitieBerry Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
Thank you :blush:
BambooFoxFire Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Student Filmographer

I'd be lying if I said I didn't like to write the angsty/emo characters *shot*

On another note though, I don't think that it's JUST the fact that they write characters with tragedy and emo-ness surrounding them so much as HOW they write them. Most often, I find that people write them as nothing more than an excuse for the character to be "rescued" by the story's love interest, and after a few hugs and cuddles and kisses, all their angst and troubles magically vanish, or the troubles and drama that occure are more melodrama than actual tragedy or what-have-you.

No PTSD, no official counseling or therapy needed, and they get over it rather quickly without even one relapse or without their angsty troubles causing any REAL relationship strain(i.e. having to work on their own bad behaviors or habits which might be destructive as a result of abuse they suffered, or if they do, it's treated as "cute" or "no big deal", but never actually addressed in a manner to solve it, or losing relationships because of it, or needing serious interventions, et cetera).

I love a well-written tragedy/angst story that addresses those problems, which would be issues one would have to tackle in real life or suffer consequences to their relationships and such, but it's really hard to find those well-written ones under all the ones that are total crap.

MakingFunOfStuff Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
Agreed, it all depends on how you handle it.
I'd like to see more realistic stories instead of always having to keep my expectations at level cheesy. Unfortunately, believable stories are hard to find.
BambooFoxFire Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Student Filmographer

Amen to that.

If you haven't read her work before, though it's fanfiction(mainly Fullmetal Alchemist), Sevlow on does an awesome job of very gritty, realistic, believable portrayals of dark fiction and angst. Honestly I don't know anyone who does it better.

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