How to Add Depth to Your Writing – Part 1
Depth is a word that’s used often. It’s more complex than writers realise, simply because there are so many facets involved in creating depth. It involves every aspect of the story and characters, and applies to both the basics and the mechanics of writing.
The depth of any story can be as deep or as shallow as the writer wants it to be. Think of the ocean. All sorts of stuff can float on the surface, but below it, lots of other things are happening that can affect what goes on above the surface. The more depth there is to a story, the more engaging it becomes.
If you have a plot, then your story already has depth. It’s how you develop that depth, by exploring ideas, characters, adding multiple brush strokes, different story threads and undercurrents, and using different themes that make the sense of ‘depth’ work.
The characters in your story will add extra depth to the story arc. Characterisation is a rich deposit for any writer, so make your characters realistic and interesting enough for the reader to form a bond. Show them aspects of your characters that the reader will see in themselves. Use one or two of these interesting characteristics explore them in greater detail; exaggerate them. For instance, your character might be slightly insecure – she doubts herself and lacks confidence because of something that happened in her past.
That exaggerated aspect forces the reader to focus on it, and it will be a feeling they will undoubtedly have felt for themselves at some point in their lives. This is known as immediacy.
The more immediacy you create, the greater the depth the story will have.
Another basic aspect to add depth to fiction is the use of themes. They’re the underlying messages to the reader that often underpin the story, whether it’s one main theme or multiple themes. They become something tangible for the reader to help them understand the story on a deeper level, because themes are universally understood by everyone. We can all relate to them.
Show different themes through your characters, the developing story arc and in particular, the subplots. So, for example, a central theme about redemption, and supporting themes of forgiveness or love, can help provide extra depth to support the main plot of a failed relationship. A central theme of success, with supporting themes of struggle and poverty, can help the main plot of an orphan who builds a business empire, only to realise that money doesn’t always bring happiness.
Just as themes are important, so are morals. There is a moral to almost every story. They can be as obvious or as subtle as you want, but the main character will understand the moral of the story by the end; he or she will have learned something from their experiences. Things like working hard will reap the benefits, helping others and being kind are better than being nasty, telling the truth is better than lie or forgiveness is better than hatred and so on.
That sense of morality – one of the undercurrents beneath that ocean surface – is something the reader loves to see, because everyone understands what morals are and what they mean to society. It’s this understanding of them that creates extra depth to your stories.
Not enough can be said about the role that emotion plays in storytelling. Emotion is the ocean analogy – all calm on the surface, but all manner of feelings rage beneath the surface. They can be turbulent, intense, subtle, conflicting or sentimental – in fact, anything that provokes a reaction is an emotional response.
We create emotions – internal or external – by manipulating characters and events. We create dilemmas and problems, we place the main characters in danger, we make their lives a living hell, we make the villain really villainous, we provoke the reader with unjust situations and we ramp up the drama and tension, because whatever the character is going through, the reader is going through it, too. It’s that thing called immediacy again – it’s what connects your characters to the reader.
If you can move the reader to tears, make them smile, make them angry, horrify or shock them, then you’ve created depth to the story on so many levels that it would be hard to count them.
In part 2 we’ll look at other ways to add depth to your writing.