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The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 3rd Edition by Writer's Digest Writer's Digest Editors

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Chapter Fourteen

The Outer Limits

How to Stretch Your Character

David Corbett

Most of us at some point in our reading lives have come upon a scene where one of the characters does something so odd it doesn’t just defy expectation, it stops us cold.

We’re not pleasantly intrigued, we’re baffled—or annoyed. The dreamlike illusion we’ve enjoyed up to that point has been ruptured not in some Brechtian breach of the fourth wall but through plain bad writing. We scratch our heads, thinking, The character just wouldn’t do that.

As writers, we don’t ever want our readers to feel that kind of disconnect—but that doesn’t mean our characters should be neatly and easily defined, either. Pushing our characters to their limits, in fact, is what makes for compelling ...

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