Do you ever wander down the fiction aisles of your library perusing the many dead tattooed trees and sigh in frustration as none entice you? Because they all seem to have been written following a specific set of instructions? Insert creepy stalker love interest here. Delete actual, accurate POC representation from Chapter 7. Include an optional mirror scene in which the obligatory female protagonist scrutinizes her many flaws.
Me too. It happens even to the best of us. And as the fiction genre grows and grows, it gets harder and harder to differentiate between one book and another. But by breaking the mold and using the below five uncommon but appreciated story elements and characterization details, you can make your ideas stand out from the rest.
#1: Diversity in Body Types
Let’s face it. In the real world, not everyone is skinny as a stick, nor is everyone broad-shouldered or lanky or thin-lipped. We all look different, and that’s great. However, in most books, characters are either too tall or too short, too skinny, and either too fragile (male lead) or too flat-chested (female lead). It’s wonderful that the publishing industry is including people of different ethnic background, sexuality, and religion. But maybe a further step could be varying body types, and letting characters love their body type! Writers, if there suddenly manifested a disease that attacked only your average-shaped person, would all your characters die or reach the point where mankind cannot thrive anymore? If the answer is yes, you need to rethink your characters’ appearances.
#2: Healthy Male-Male Friendships
While female-female friendships are certainly important, one thing we’ve noticed is the lack of healthy male-male friendships in books, especially in the YA genre. Whenever more than one male character is introduced, they’re usually either siblings, hate each other’s guts, or in an arena trying to kill everyone else. But what does this mean for the male readership currently going through their teenage years when they are unable to find a good representation of a healthy male-male friendship? What kind of messages are we sending readers when no male is able to be friends with others of the same sex, when males are constantly seeing other males as enemies? When male-male friendships are underdeveloped and treated as second fiddle to female-female friendships, while they are all in fact equal and needed to make a good story?*
#3: End the Love Geometry Realistically
Ah, don’t you just love it when you save the world, find the Holy Grail, and – poof! – suddenly have a bunch of lovely folks wanting to shove their tongues in your mouth? Luckily, three of them die of cyanogen poisoning, four move to a parallel universe, and nine turn out to be your long-lost relatives, conveniently leaving just one special chick awaiting a make-out session with you and you only. Which was rather opportune of the universe to do such a nice thing for you, seeing as you just couldn’t choose between your tremendous amount of suitors, even though no one really had to lose their life if you would have just agreed to sit down a deliver a serious speech to them.
#4: Myopic/Hyperopic Characters
Glasses exist, and so does myopia and hyperopia. And yet, in many fictional worlds, everyone seems to have perfect vision. Occasionally, you may see the token Nerdy Best Friend™ don their lenses, but that’s about it. Worse of all, even if the protagonist does wear glasses, they’ll probably take it off sometime in the story for the sake of beauty, and voila! They’re automatically more popular, their skin is suddenly flawless, compliments from their peers and crushes are popping up left and right, and they win the freaking lottery and go to the prom in a sleek black limousine. Or something. All because they took their glasses off. Ah, what we wouldn’t give for positive myopic/hyperopic representation.
#5: ‘Hidden in plain sight’ Plot Device
Also known by me as the J.K. Rowling Method, the ‘Hiding Important Things In Plain Sight So Readers Feel Like an Idiot’ plot device is where the book basically…hides important solutions to the central conflict in plain sight so readers can smack their heads when the book reveals it. Sometimes the Small Important Thing hides itself in a descriptive paragraph, other times it’s in a throwaway remark that turns out to be not so throwaway. What makes this plot device great is that it carries a crapload of shock factor and gives readers a kick out of rereading the book when they notice that Small Important Thing and the foreshadowing they should have noticed. You can also use it in pretty much every genre, not just mystery. Say the book’s about a road trip. Along the way, maybe the protagonist loses, their, um, beachball and tries to find it, only to discover their dog ate it and that was why the dog was sick. Look, guys, this is why I blog instead of write NYT bestselling novels.
So…err…that’s the end of my rant. Do you have any things you’d like to see more of in books? What about things you’d like to see less of? Anyways, thanks for coming to my TED talk and I hope you have a nice day full of tacos. And stuff.
*I’d like to take this moment to give a special shout-out to platonic m/f friendships in which no one ever develops romantic feelings for the other person.