Sunday, September 11, 2011

How Not To Be A (Melo) Drama Queen

Melodrama is a problem that many beginning writers face. We give our characters problem after problem (after all, they tell us to add lots of conflict!) and sometimes the way we show their reaction is unrealistic or over the top, especially if you write romance. Yet this problem, which could result in our losing that valued contract or agent, is easily remedied. Another writing friend and I were discussing this recently. This prompted me to think about how this can be toned down in my writing. So here’s some tips to mellow out the drama:

1- Less is more. Those of us who are really descriptive authors may raise eyebrows at this. But let’s look at the example of a mother who finds out her child has been kidnapped. Rather than have her running around wailing and screaming, it might be much more poignant if she just stood there shocked and shaking. Or if your main characters are saying good-bye to each other, which portrays the emotion best: sobbing hysterically or a look of despair while their fingertips touch as they walk away. These examples show, that instead of using a scene that will make readers roll their eyes, use one that will heighten their emotions and touch their hearts.

2- Deepen Character Emotions- As writers we want our readers to feel deeply with the characters. Portraying this without being overly sentimental is the challenge. Sometimes just deepening the emotions and inner conflict of your character makes their actions much more believable. You can write a love scene that might otherwise sound cutesy, but by deepening emotion and inner conflict, such as having the characters experience doubts and inner turmoil, makes the scene much more poignant and deepens your characters in the process.

3- Avoid Contrived Character Actions – One of the things to avoid when plotting a novel is to have characters acting in a way real people never would. For example having a character ignore threats on their life, so at the end they can get shot, isn’t a good idea. Who would really do that?? Think of ways to make your characters act rational. Who knows a twist might appear that you never thought of.

4- Avoid Character Stereotypes – Readers have them all memorized and will avoid reading your novel if they’ve read about your type of characters before, in a different novel. However, stereotyped plots and characters can be used if you develop creative twists and give the characters qualities that set them apart from every other novel. A great example of an author who did this very effectively, is Julie Lessman in her novel “A Passion Most Pure.” She took the sibling rivalry plot to the next level, adding twists and turns and creative characters. This set it apart from every other sibling rivalry romance.

Melodrama is very subjective. What one reader thinks is melodramatic, another reader might really enjoy. There is a fine line between adding the right amount of drama in your story verses overkill. Finding that fine line is an art that takes time to develop. If you are planning on attending the ACFW conference in a few weeks there are several workshops that deal with this topic in more detail. So check them out.

ACFW Conference Workshops
1) A Kiss is Not Just a Kiss: Julie Lessman and Ruth Axtell Morren are the presenters in this workshop
2)Focus on Description: Susan May Warren is the presenter in this workshop
3)Adversity: Writing It, Writing Through It, Writing About It: Allie Pleiter is the presenter in this workshop

Here are some books that deal with this topic as well:
1)Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints  by:  Nancy Kress

2)Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by:
Brandilyn Collins

Learning this technique can be a challenge, but we must keep improving in our craft and becoming the kind of writers that our readers deserve.

What tips or techniques do you use to help in this area of your writing? Can't wait to hear from you!



Laura Marcella said...

These are great examples, Amanda. I especially agree with less is more!

Roseanna White said...

I love to show the contradiction on my characters, especially in dialogue vs. narrative. Like:

"Oh, it's so great to see you!" If she didn't get away from this woman, she may pull out her hair.

My current heroine was soooo difficult to write at first, because her actions were exactly opposite her true self, and trying to capture that . . . difficult. But so much fun once I got the hang of her.