How to Twist a Plot (and how to not)

There have only been two plot twists in the world to blow me over. (The plot twist in Ted Dekker’s ‘THR3E,’ experienced when I was fifteen, and the plot twist in Teen Wolf season 3 when I was nineteen.) Those two plot twists have stuck with me like no others. It’s not because I’m some Super Predicting Genius who automatically knows every plot twist before they happen. It’s only because most plot twists just aren’t surprising – and I realized why yesterday.

I was thinking about the Attolia series – a series which many of my friends praise as being the most plot-twisty and surprising books they’ve ever read – and why the plot twists in these books have yet to actually surprise me. The major plot twist in The Queen of Attolia didn’t surprise me. It wasn’t shocking. I wasn’t delighted.

That’s not to say it was badly written (not at all) or the plot twist wasn’t a good plot element (it was), but plot twists should shock and awe. They should have you gasping in surprise and thinking about them for days, if not weeks. They should be ones you remember.

So, I wondered, why have I only ever been truly, wonderfully surprised by two plot twists in the History of Ever? I turned this question over and over until finally the answer fell out, and like any good sporadic blogger I had to share it with you.

The Best Plot Twists Have Nothing To Do With What You Know

I’m going to spoil the first two books in the Attolia series for you, so if you haven’t read it yet proceed with caution. Let’s take a look at this twist. The main character in the series is Eugenides, or ‘Gen,’ a royal thief. His hands are relatively important to him. When he loses one of them, it sends him into a complete spiral and for the rest of the book he’s a mopey, depressed, obnoxious brat who refuses to leave his room. (Again, I’m not saying this is bad writing – this was written intentionally. He’s SUPPOSED to frustrate the heck out of us.) It isn’t until the end of the book that the author reveals Gen has actually been strategizing, planning, and carrying out enormous deeds in secret, and his bad attitude has been an act to fool the enemy.

It was the Big Reveal, but I felt incredibly….unimpressed. My reaction was more like “Ah. Okay. Sure,” than “WOWOWOW. WHAT,” and the reason for my lack of shock is this: the plot twist was completely within Gen’s character norm.

We know Gen by this point, so we’re aware that he’s clever, devious, cunning, scheming, a liar, and generally untrustworthy (to most). Also, the plotline of the first book had the same formula – the book shows you one side of the coin until the end, where it flips the coin and shows you the other side. We know Gen is irascible and moody, although he’s far moodier and more irascible in the second book.

So I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal in The Queen of Attolia was: Gen being himself.

And that, I realized, is why most ‘plot twists’ aren’t really plot twists at all. They’re just happenings. They can be good happenings and keep us entertained, but most plot twists don’t really twist the plot because they rely on a character basically being – well, in-character.

The same happens frequently with Loki. I love him as much as the next person, but every plot twist regarding Loki is fairly expected because he’s proven who he is over and over again. If a Mysterious Mentor Figure ‘dies,’ you can be pretty sure he’ll come back because he’s just that – mysterious. When the Rogue With a Heart of Gold leaves, you know he’ll return – because he has a heart of gold.

My two favorite plot twists did not rely on the personality of a certain character. They were an outside force, acting upon the plot in a way that was surprising because it was unexpected.

They went against the expected grain.

You know what – there will be spoilers all over this post because I’m going to talk about those plot twists. If you haven’t read THR3E or seen Teen Wolf and are planning on doing either of those things, you’ve been warned.

The plot twist in THR3E worked for (you guessed it) – three reasons.

One: They began at separate sides of the story. The novel opened with the hero on one side doing his thing and the villain on the other side doing his thing.

Two: You were already ‘Faked Out’ with a plot twist shortly before the true plot twist took place. You discover that one of the focal characters is actually the main character’s second self. That was fun, but it didn’t particularly blow me over.

Three: You discover at the very last moment that the main antagonist and villain is the main character’s third disassociated identity. The three separate characters about whom you’ve been reading are all the same person – but Dekker did an excellent job of setting up this plot twist. There was no evidence of the over-arching villain also being a second personality. When you read about the villain, there was nothing to indicate you already knew him. This third personality did not rely on the main character’s personality to spring the plot twist, he acted separately.

The aforementioned plot twist in Teen Wolf is still my favorite plot twist of all time, and it works for some of the same reasons. In fact, it’s a fairly similar plot twist, albeit approached differently. To set the stage very badly: for the mid-(third) season finale, the main characters – Scott, Stiles, and Allison – had to open themselves up to a dark dimension, the Nemeton, in order to save their parents from the Darach. They were warned there would be consequences, as opening yourself up to darkness in any form is a terrible idea. However, these ‘consequences’ were vague, unknowable, and the kids proceeded anyway. They saved their parents, achieved victory against the odds, and we got our happy(ish) mid-season finale.

Stiles, as a character, was always just short of three-dimensional. The plucky comic relief and loyal sidekick, he was a delightful character but also the Token Human; the Samwise Gamgee, the Robin to Scott’s Batman. Season 3b began focusing more on Stiles and working hard to add dimension to him – we see him struggle with PTSD from everything that’s happened previously. It’s hard to be plucky and comedic when you’re constantly being hit with hallucinations, panic attacks, and the fear you might have inherited the genetic issues that killed your mother. Not to mention both Scott and Allison are experiencing similar issues – it’s not just Stiles.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the plot, two Oni have entered Beacon Hills. The deadly Japanese spirits are searching for someone – nobody knows who, but they know that when they find that person, they’re going to kill them. Not only that, but the arrival of the Oni has also brought plenty of chaos – attacks, disappearances, and death. The Oni are the antagonists, with the teens fighting to keep them from killing anyone. The plot directs your focus as Teens vs. Oni, while Stiles’ struggles are easily chalked up to severe PTSD.

And then comes the moment. The Oni approach a terrified Stiles alone in a hallway. You know what’s been happening in town, you know the Oni are causing death somehow, and you know there’s a chance Stiles might actually die.

The Oni – incorporeal spirits so far impossible to kill – reach for Stiles. And Stiles, the Token Human, grabs the Oni’s fist in his. He stares at his hand, shocked. And then he looks at the Oni, and his expression changes from Astounded Stiles to something entirely different and you know suddenly and shockingly that the real villain the whole half-season has been Stiles, and the show has been misdirecting you. (And misdirecting you beautifully.) Turns out the Oni aren’t the real villains – they’re actually (more or less) the good guys, searching for the true cause of the destruction and death haunting Beacon Hills, aka the Nogitsune who has been fighting for control of Stiles’ mind.

(I even hunted around and found the little clip for you HERE. You’re welcome.)

This plot twist was so well done, and so beautifully built from the ground up, that I think I just stared at the screen in awed silence. I still want to throw a party when I think about it because it was just. so. good.

And it worked because it didn’t rely on Stiles’ personality whatsoever. It was an outside force acted upon the plot – not a twist derived from Who Stiles Is as a Person. It wasn’t Stiles Being Stiles. It was Stiles, being acted on by an outside force. That’s why it was a surprise.

And that, folks, is how you get a plot twist to surprise me. So sally forth, carry on, write your plot happenings, but also write true, grand, shocking Plot Twists. They’re a little extra work – but they’re so worth it.

Now riddle me this – what is YOUR favorite fictional plot twist of all time?

 

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A Few Good Reasons to Watch ‘Trollhunters’

Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite show is Prison Break which is why when I began watching Trollhunters and said it tied with Prison Break as my favorite, it sent people into a kind of mild shock. Granted, it’s a Guillermo del Toro show, but it’s an animated show for kids – not my usual fare. To date, the only animated movies/shows I have raved about are either anime, Studio Ghibli, or Kubo and the Two Strings. I was recently asked to explain why I love Trollhunters so much, as those sad few I haven’t yet convinced to watch it are missing out (okay, I added that reasoning on my own but still). With that in mind, I thought I’d just write a list of reasons you should watch it, if saying ‘for my sake’ doesn’t really do the trick. (This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a handful of compelling reasons. I have loads more, just ask.)

• It has a vast range of three-dimensional characters who surprise you.  There are a handful of stereotypical characters, but they’re completely delightful; and most of the characters are far more complex than usually found in an animated family show. You have bad characters become good, deep or tragic backstories for characters who seemed simple, complicated decisions made by gray-area characters, and antagonistic characters making decisions for complicated reasons.

• It has a HUGE amount of characters I freaking adore. If you know me you’ll know this is rare – most shows have ONE character I adore; three at most. In this show I adore…let’s see. AARRRGH, Draal, Not!Enrique, Strickler, Angor Rot, Vendall – they are the characters I flat-out love to pieces, but I love probably fifteen (literally) others I like far more than normal.

• The animation is glorious. I mean glorious. If you’re expecting Dragonriders of Berk, you are very wrong. It’s at least three times as good.

• The humor is hilarious. There’s humor for little kids, and humor for adults; but for the most part the humor is straight-up hilarious for everyone. I laugh, my dad laughs, my mom laughs, my sister laughs – and we’re a very diverse group of people.

• It’s squeaky clean without pulling punches. The show isn’t afraid to go surprisingly dark for a kids’ show, but it never goes anywhere I wouldn’t want my own children to watch it. Bad things happen to these kids. Characters we love are killed. Characters struggle with themselves and making good decisions, and even the heart-warming moments pack punches. This show actually makes me cry. Like a lot.

• The music is also excellent.

• The character design is beautiful. Granted, it’s not flat-out terrifying like the original book covers by the incredible artist Sean Andrew Murray,

Untitled

(I mean excuse me THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE BLINKY WITH TENTACLES ARMS /AND/ TENTACLE EYES I love it) but still, there are some stunning designs running around here.

• The show will surprise you. It does have the usual fantasy cliches; the ‘chosen one,’ the ‘darklands,’ the ‘dark lord seeking to rise again,’ etc. but it’s done in such a way I don’t even mind. It takes usual cliche characters (like Jim’s mom Barbara) and makes something great with them.

• Things are always happening in the background as well as the foreground

• The show is adorable.

• It will also break your heart.

• It’s so good. Please watch it. I’ve seen it four times and

• It gets better every time.

A Brief Guide to Mansplaining

It happens on a near-daily basis, both on the internet and out and about in daily life. I say something – anything, really; an opinion, a fact, a remark about a book or a comic character or a historical figure – and it happens. I think my knowledge of things must have some kind of scent, because it draws in a certain kind of creature called the Mansplainer.

Now, I didn’t notice the phenomenon of Mansplaining much in my teens. I was – well, a teenager, and assumed there were many things I didn’t know. However as an adult woman, I’ve become keenly aware of how much I really do know – and how much the average male does not want to believe I know.

For those of you who don’t know, Mansplaining is the particular activity many men have when a woman says words, and a man feels the need to either a) correct her b) take the subject matter and discuss it as though she knows very little about it and he knows everything, or c) ask why she feels the need to talk about a thing at all.

Not every man who Mansplains is a terrible person. Often I think they simply don’t realize it’s what they’re doing – but not only does it make them look insecure and small, it has the opposite effect of what they probably wanted. Instead of seeming like a Superior Intelligence, they look foolish. Instead of seeming well-educated or well-rounded, they come across as desperate and threatened.

Are they always desperate and threatened? Of course not. Like I said, I don’t think most Mansplainers even realize they’re doing it and if someone were to point this out, they might be horrified. It isn’t just ‘one type’ of man who does this, either. I see equal culprits from the public-schooled guys as I do from the homeschooled ones. One is a culture of beer-chugging horn-honking pick-up lines (or even suit-wearing despot types), and the other comes from the uber-Patriarchal ‘women are your lessers, you are the Man and therefore the Better Creation’ mindset.

Both are equally bad.  And here’s the thing – everyone does this at some point. I’ve done it before – and when I realized it, made amends. That’s the important part. Just because I know something more about a subject (or think I do) doesn’t give me leave to trample over someone else or make them look stupid in a public setting. It’s bad manners, it’s rude, and it makes the person doing it look like an idiot.

If you find yourself being Mansplained to, don’t roll over and take it, but don’t get nasty either. Gently, calmly assure the man doing the splaining that you do know what you’re talking about. (If you do NOT know what you’re talking about, then feel free to ask questions and learn more – turning away good lessons just because you don’t like the teacher is a mistake. But you should still point out the fact he’s being less than stellar.) If he insists he wasn’t doing anything and you’re overreacting (which happens, even when you’ve been extremely kind and subtle about how you feel), shrug, let out a deep breath, and tell him (kindly – again, you don’t want to stoop) that he’s assuming you’re stupid, you don’t appreciate it, and ask him not to do it again.

He probably will do it again, but next time you have a good base for saying ‘Hey, look, I asked you politely last time not to treat me like a moron,’ and you can have no qualms about letting him have it. (Kindly. Always kindly.)

If you find out YOU’RE the one doing the Mansplaining (even if you’re a woman. It happens) then just fortify yourself and apologize. Because in the immortal words of King Arthur,

Why have enemies when you could have friends?

Or, as my friend Lex added, when you could at least have not-enemies.

Han Aloneguy: Unnecessary Backstory, and Other Delights (Spoilers Everywhere)

If you know me at all, you probably know I love Star Wars. Both extended universe AND new canon. You also probably know I sort of hated Rogue One and love the new trilogy, so going into Solo I figured it was about fifty-fifty; I might love it or I might hate it.

I hated it. Although hate is a very strong word, honestly – it was terribly tacked-together, badly written, too long, and so boring I had trouble keeping my eyes open, so basically it’s equal with Rogue One on my ‘if I’d had dreams this movie would have crushed them’ scale.

But instead of doing a long, rambly post I decided to write a list! A list of things about which I have questions. A list wherein I can make a remark or several about each different Thing.

NOTE: Are you shocked I hated Rogue One? Are you aghast that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie? Do you want to pretend like I’m not a ‘real’ Star Wars fan because of these things? If so, this is not the place for you! I mean, feel free to comment these things but a) you really won’t change my mind, I promise and b) I’ll just delete the comment if I don’t make a sarcastic reply, so comment with those arguments at your own peril.

THE LIST

CHARACTERS

Han: Alden Reichenbach wasn’t terrible, although I loved how he started out obviously trying to channel Harrison Ford with his expressions and inflection and then just kind of gave up about 1/3 through the movie. Also his name? Solo? Was literally given to him by a guy at the airport? Because he was /alone/? Get it? Han Solo? So now you know, the iconic name that would have been perfectly fine without a terribly lame backstory was just tacked on by an exasperated TSA guy. I didn’t realize we were supposed to take his last name literally.

What does this mean for the other SW characters with a noun as their surname? Was Grievous named by some guy at the airport, too? Did he show up and cough his way through security and the TSA guy was just like ‘well, you’re really chapping my khakis; what’s your name? Oh never mind, ‘Grievous,’ because you’re a grievous guy. Here’s your stuff!” Or Anakin Skywalker, did he wake up one day in space, walking, and Shmi went ‘welp, guess I know HIS last name from now on!’ Why didn’t the airport guy call him Han Aloneguy? Or Han Byhimself? Or Han Single? How many people with no last name has this guy named ‘Solo’ since he started working? Does Han have thousands of unofficial relations running around the galaxy?

Am I nitpicking? Probably. But it was a really stupid way to give us his name. It could have just been…his name. Also I nitpick a lot so here’s something that ISN’T nitpicky –

Han ends up helping a rebellion in this movie because he’s got a heart of gold and is secretly a good guy. We know this because Emilia Clarke says so, and Han has basically spent the entire movie running around helping other people – so did he learn to be extra jaded later? Is that what this movie is supposed to set up? I felt like having Han go to all this trouble to help a mini-rebellion in this movie really undermined his character growth in the original trilogy since he basically just does the thing he’s already done. Sigh.

Qi’ra: I have mixed feelings about Qi’ra. Emilia Clarke is a fine actress and she’s cute and Qi’ras character was….okay, and wasn’t badly done or anything, but we have her zipping off at the end of the movie into what looks like a sequel (please no we don’t need it) and I just have a hard time seeing her being at all interesting apart from Han because…she has very little personality? And the only person she really interacts with with any meaning is Han? And aside from that storyline she’s just sort of there being pretty and wearing bomber jackets because the costume department had five hundred bucks and the nearest mall, I guess

Beckett: I usually like Woody Harrelson’s characters. They’re just very Woody Harrelson-ish. But Beckett was so full of plot holes and contradictions it’s just confusing. We have the obvious scene where he tells Han “Don’t trust ANYONE” at which point you know he’s going to stab Han in the back at the end of the movie. But then Han brings up Val, who I guess was basically Beckett’s wife? Practically? and Beckett’s just like //I trust NO ONE// but that doesn’t make sense because he trusted Val and Val apparently never did anything to betray that trust; she literally sacrificed her life so the team would get away and I just….okay, Beckett

Val: Literally served no purpose whatsoever. I don’t know whether this is due to all the cuts and reshoots or what, but she just…had no reason for being in this movie. Her death didn’t even really affect Beckett that much, and clearly his trust issues had nothing to do with her at all, so….sorry, Val

Rio: Oh boy. Rio was supposed to be a lot of the comic relief, I think, except every joke he made fell so flat I physically cringed with most of them. They were bad, folks. Here are a few examples of these ‘jokes.’ Ahem.

‘Have you ever tried to disinvite a wookie to anything? Not a good idea.’

‘I’m telling you, you’ll never have a deeper sleep than curled up in a wookie’s lap.’

And my personal favorite,

‘You’ve never been to a mynock roast on ardenia!  It’s nuts! Wakka wakka!’

I’m pretty sure that’s when my heart just kind of sank with the realization that all the reshoots and cutting had either taken out all of the good jokes from the original version or the reshoots had stuck in new bad ones by someone with no actual sense of humor trying to pass off these lines as being funny. It’s pretty sad when someone in a movie says something that’s clearly supposed to be humorous but it falls so flat that literally nobody laughs. On the bright side, I think adding ‘wakka wakka!’ pointlessly onto the end of anybody’s bad joke is going to make life ten times better.

Dryden Vos: Paul Bettany was (as usual) a breath of fresh air, even if he didn’t really have space to do much. Apparently he was one of the big changes from the original version to the reshoot; Dryden was originally going to be a CGI character played by Michael K Williams, but when schedules shifted he couldn’t make it so they cast Bettany in the role (hallelujah) as a romantic rival to Han which is the one part that doesn’t…translate? Really? I mean if they wanted some kind of legitimate love triangle they didn’t pull that through very well; Dryden was interesting but definitely more of a Master with Delusions of Mentorship while Qi’ra was either a slave or hanging around for a better opportunity (or both).

Also I thought it was hilarious that the scene with Vos, Qi’ra, and Han at the end was basically an exact echo of the throne room scene from The Last Jedi; you could almost take the exact lines and switch them over so Vos is like ‘I feel your hatred and rage turning your weapon toward your true enemy!’*

*lines obviously paraphrased because I don’t feel like looking them up

Lando: Donald Glover was to Lando what everybody hoped Alden Hackencough would be to Han Solo. Except for the lines that were just terrible (‘Mining colonies are the worst’) and clearly stuck in for a reshoot, he seemed to be having a wonderful time and did a great impression of the original Lando. Unfortunately we don’t really get more to his personality; the impression remains an impression of the character, rather than an expansion, but Glover was a delight anyway.

L3: Once again, we have a character who’s more like two characters at odds with each other thanks to the reshoots. L3 COULD have been funny –  I mean, even K2-SO was a worthy gem in a movie I can’t stand, but L3 was a confusing mess of personality traits. Most of her lines are cringeworthy SJW ideas supposed to be funny? I think? Except this line of ‘humor’ raises questions like ‘dO droids deserve equal rights as humans? Does that make every droid-owning character a slave master? Are we supposed to agree and sympathize with L3 or are we supposed to laugh her off?’ Whatever they were trying to do, it didn’t work. And sometimes it was so ham-fisted it was just truly terrible; there’s one scene where Lando asks L3 if she needs anything (she’s a droid piloting a ship, what’s she going to need?? A margarita??) and she goes “EQUAL RIGHTS?” and it’s just. I just.

Chewbacca: Chewbacca was Chewbacca, and the way he meets Han was pretty okay even if every ‘plot twist’ was so obvious it was sad.

‘Throw him in witH THE BEAST.’ ‘you have a bEAST?? oh NO’

Also there’s the scene where Han asks Chewbacca his name and Chewbacca’s like ‘Hrra2353948ghhhg’ and Han’s like ‘Chewbacca? I’m not calling you that every time! Chewie it is!’ like Chewbacca is some difficult-to-remember mouthful of a name, like Alden Anglerfish. Did we need backstory for his nickname? I mean I know that when I give someone a nickname I don’t usually go ‘Boy howdy, your name is hard to say I’m just going to shorten it!’ and then we look back on that time and laugh. Usually they just happen and we don’t really need backstory for it but it’s fine

(Why yes this post is longer than I expected but don’t worry we’re nearing the end)

The Kessel Run: Am I the only one who assumed the Kessel Run was some kind of space-race or maybe a difficult stretch of space that Han made in double-quick time or something at some point? Well, I was wrong, because apparently it’s a space-storm, called a ‘run’ just…kinda because, and there’s also a space monster! Except we can’t see a lot of it because it’s pretty dark and cloudy and it’s basically the star trek thing where they go ‘IF WE RELEASE X FUEL WE’LL EITHER PULL FREE OR EXPLODE’ and anyway. They don’t explode. Eh.

Necessary Backstory: The whole thing with Chewie’s nickname and the Kessel Run are only a few of the things we didn’t really need to see the Origins of in this movie. Included in the list of things nobody really cares about are a) how Han got his blaster! (Beckett hands it to him) b) how Chewie got his bandoleer! (Beckett gives it to him) c) How Han got the Millenium Falc – wait, we already knew how he got it. Oh well, we get to see it all play out exactly as you’d think it would. d) how Han got his last name! (I know we covered that already but it’s on the list and is probably the worst one) e) you know those droid brains supposedly fighting inside the Falcon causing it to be temperamental? Well one of those brains is L3, apparently! Which seems cruel and unusual since she hated being a slave and is now forever trapped inside the navigation system of a ship, unable to sass or anything. Yikes.)

The Plot in General: I’ll say this for Rogue One (words i never thought i would say ever), it had a straightforward plot. The plot for Solo is pretty all over the place with very little cohesion and a lot of action so useless it’s boring (I almost fell asleep during Rogue One three times and found my eyes glazing over after about ten minutes of Solo). Also Rogue One was way more visually interesting than Solo – Solo has a shockingly dull aesthetic. Even the costumes are boring. Qi’ra wears one neat outfit with a red cape and I liked Dreyden’s half-cape-suit-thing, but aside from that we’re back with 500 bucks at the mall and that’s what it looks like. The planets aren’t very distinctive, and it all just looks very…bland. It’s kind of the same beef I have with Agents of Shield – even during its good seasons, it has a very monochromatic boring ‘coulda bought that at Target’ aesthetic that’s just very uninteresting to look at.

Things I DID Actually Like: Speaking of Rogue One, remember that one guy I mentioned who I wanted to know more about? That one alien who worked for Saw Geurrera but had almost no lines and died almost immediately? He was in here! He was with Enfys Nests’s group in the background for like fifteen seconds; it was great.

Also I was happy to see Ray Park back as Darth Maul, even if they’re always dubbing over Ray’s voice because it’s not intimidating enough for anyone, apparently. Also I thought Boba Fett was in the movie for a second because there’s a suit of Mandalorian armor in Dreyden’s office and how great would it have been if it WAS actually Boba Fett, and as soon as Solo leaves the room she and Boba run dramatically into each other’s arms, ring up Darth Maul, and set sail on a life of passionate adventure? No?

Fine. Other things I liked….mmmm

OH there was one line where Han’s about to fly into the deadly storm cloud and he goes ‘I have a really good feeling about this’ and it was by far my favorite line in the movie.

TL;DR

Nothing worked tonally. I wish they had stuck with the Lord and Taylor comedy version because that would have solved nearly every issue with this movie, from the terribly lame half-jokes to the things that we were supposed to take seriously but came across as lame, and vice versa. This COULD have been the Thor: Ragnarok of the Star Wars universe, but I guess for some reason Disney is still afraid to take risks like that despite how well Thor: Ragnarok did in theaters. Also I’m even more scared for the Boba Fett movie now because I have very little faith in these prequel spinoffs

When can we get a solid non-prequel anthology spinoff? Because that would be cool. In the meantime, this is the easiest Star Wars movie to cosplay ever, just ask for a gift card to Forever 21 or something and you’re set!

Three Things that Are Not Character Traits

Ah, characters. They can be difficult little hooligans sometimes, am I right? We all know this, and I sympathize. I stop sympathizing, however, when I pick up a book and discover the pages are full of one-dimensional cardboard cutouts standing in for REAL characters, who had other places to be (I guess). Authors like Cassandra Clare, Sarah J Maas, and Victoria Aveyard love to rely on the sort of character I like to call the Single Aspect, or SA character.

This is a character who has one Aspect the author has tried to build their entire personality around – and failed utterly, because nobody has just One Aspect from which to flesh out the rest their entire being.

Here are a few Aspects I have seen authors try to use in place of real character traits.

1. Their Accent

Generally a British accent of some kind, this character exists to have an accent. Other characters will mention this character’s accent frequently. Often this character is a villain or ‘bad-boy’ type, and the single draw to their character will be how ‘sexy’ or ‘exotic’ they sound while speaking. Everything they say and do is crafted around how they sound and they fall into the stereotypes that come along with said accent or supposed nationality (because all English people are either bad-boys or villains, everybody knows that). Of course, we can’t restrict this to only British accents – characters with Spanish accents are generally suave and flirtatious! Characters with Australian accents are usually buff, tough, and punch sharks in the face for fun. (Well, okay. That example might be accurate, but use it sparingly.)

2. Their Appearance

The way someone looks isn’t a character trait. I don’t care if they have gold eyes or silver skin or maroon hair; I don’t care if they’re an albino or have scales. I don’t care if they have a perfect hourglass figure or a twelve-pack. Their appearance is not a stand-in for a well-rounded character. This is something at which Cassie Clare excels – can’t think of anything interesting for a character to say? That’s all right; they can just talk about their appearance. Or someone else can talk about their appearance. Or you can just spend another paragraph describing it. You know, when in doubt.

3. Their Intellect

Intellect is not a character trait. LET ME REPEAT: Intellect is NOT a character trait. We’ve all seen this example – whether as a sidekick in a book or (often) a TV show. This character is incredibly brainy and knows everything – so much, in fact, that they don’t have much of a voice to call their own. They’re always willing to share a fact or a piece of history or something about science, but is there anything to them beyond their intellect? Sometimes…no. This is lazy writing. Having a character around for no reason other than to provide exposition and explain things to the reader (or viewer) is no reason at all; this character provides a crutch for a writer who doesn’t want to take the time to explain things in a more organic way. Also, the kind of Intellectual Character often seen in villains is a cop-out. A character who has no real depth or emotion aside from Their Cold, Calculating Intelligence isn’t a character. It’s an uninteresting structure. Like most modern art sculptures.

AND there we have it; three aspects that are not personality traits. Can you think of any more? If so, I’d love to hear them; we can rant about them in the comments. Until then, happy writing (with three-dimensional characters)!