Arrested Development by Karen S. Wiesner

Arrested Development by Karen S. Wiesner

Arrested Development by Karen S. Wiesner

Arrested Development

by Karen S. Wiesner

Based on Bring Your Fiction to Life: Crafting Three-Dimensional Stories with Depth and Complexity and CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer’s Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}


Character Plot Relationship Developmental Signs of Life



Evidence of functionality, breathing, heartbeat, the spark of life.



Not simply existing and going through the motions but possessing fully developed external and internal conflicts.



Dynamic, realistic, and believable relationships.


Vitality and Voice

Three-dimensional character attributes.



Definable objective and purpose of being along with goals and motivations.


“I misjudged you. You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.” ~Harvey to Cohn in The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway


stethoscopeIn the field of medicine and psychology, the term “arrested development” means a premature stoppage of physical or psychological development, or the cessation of one or more phases of the developmental process resulting in a lack of completion that may produce potential anomalies. Arrested development can be applied to many situations, including writing. It’s something that happens often in fiction with the three core elements of every story–Characters, Plots, and Relationships (CPR)–becoming arrested in their development.


We live in a publishing era that can easily be viewed with growing concern given that the absolute requirement of developing CPR in a story is being sorely neglected in books made available for purchase. In the ideal, a reader wants to immerse himself in a glorious story that pulls him into a fictional world so realistic and populated with three-dimensional characters, plots, and relationships he never wants to leave. He’s paid for that, after all, so why shouldn’t he get it? Instead, he’s saddled with a story that starts bad and only seems to be getting worse. Why would anyone keep reading? The author obviously didn’t care to do it right. Despite the time and money invested in this endeavor, it’s just easier to walk away. Whether subpar writing is done out of laziness, a lack of skill in crafting, or simple ignorance, having a reader drop a bad book and never come back to it (or to the creator) is the last thing an author should want or allow.




Deep, multifaceted development of characters, plots, and relationships can only be achieved through three-dimensional writing, something I’ve written in-depth about in my writing reference Bring Your Fiction to Life: Crafting Three-Dimensional Stories with Depth and Complexity. All of those concepts are crucial to character, plot, and relationship (which I’ll call CPR often from this point on) development.


What makes a person alive? According to WebMD, the three organs that are so crucial to life that you’ll die if they stop working are the lungs (breath), heart (blood and oxygen), and brain (functionality). The three work together and without them (or life support), a person is either comatose or deceased.


I would add a fourth component that may not bring around true death to live without: A person needs a soul to live and do more than simply exist–and that means there’s an objective or purpose in being. Arguably, a lack of soul can steal all the joy out of living and/or never provide the “spark” that exemplifies life.


If you noticed the CPR Signs of Life Acronym Chart I included at the beginning of this article, we can certainly say that it’s possible to see the animation in a character that provides evidence of functionality, breathing, heartbeat, and the spark of life. To truly be living, characters aren’t simply existing and going through the motions. They possess fully developed external and internal conflicts. They’re interacting in dynamic, realistic, and believable relationships. They have three-dimensional character attributes that give them both vitality and voice. Finally, they’re engaged in what makes life worthwhile with definable goals and motivations. I also created a poster of this that you’ll find on the last page of this book. You can print or cut it out and put it next to your work space for ease of reference.


tombstoneCharacters, plots, and relationships need to be breathing, blood and oxygen flowing through their veins in order to function, or they’re in a vegetative state or just plain dead. The soul of the character is what turns an ordinary paper doll into a vibrant, memorable personality.


In fiction, the potential for zombies is only too common, and I don’t simply mean zombie characters. Plots and relationships can be just as zombie-like. Who wants to read about something that’s alive (i.e., not dead) but not really living either? Even in books about zombies, it’s the heart-beating, breathing, functional characters, plots, and relationships that make the story come to life. (By the way, if your zombie is living–as in iZombie style–and not simply alive, it’s not a true zombie by definition.) As we said, a soul–providing unforgettable character traits, conflicts, and interactions with a very definite “life spark” that makes a reader care and immerse himself in a story–is imperative to make the characters, plots, and relationships compelling.

CPR development is a two-step process:


1) Establishing: Foundation begins in plotting and planting the seeds of development for the CPR process right from the very first scene in a book. You wouldn’t just plunk down a plant you want to flourish in an area where it won’t get sun, rain, or the nutrients it needs to survive, would you? Plotting and planting are all about properly setting up before setting out, anchoring and orienting readers before leading them with purpose through your story landscape. That’s something that needs to be done in every single scene of a book with the basic grasp of setup. The longer it takes for a reader to figure out where he is and what he’s doing there, the less chance he’ll engage with the story and agree to go along for the journey.


2) Progressing: The one thing a story can’t and should never be is static. Development isn’t something that stops with the foundational introduction or establishment of threads. Development keeps happening throughout a story. Every single scene that follows the first must show a strong purpose in developing, revealing and advancing characters, plots and relationships in a wide variety of facets. Progress must be made to push past the point of plotting and planting seeds to cultivating the core element “blooms” that pop up into the landscape in every scene. The only way to achieve three-dimensional development of characters, plots, and relationships is to actively take each opportunity to establish and advance the elements that–if properly sketched–should appear in an organic way along the path to telling the story.


If your characters, plots, and relationships that make up each scene in your story are truly three-dimensional and properly developed and advanced, your book will be so vivid, readers will be haunted by the unforgettable, vibrant world conveyed through your words even after they finish reading.


About the Author

Creating realistic, unforgettable characters one story at a time.

CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction: A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plots, and Relationships 3d coverKaren Wiesner is an accomplished author with 130 titles published in the past 20 years, which have been nominated/won 134 awards, and has 39 more releases contracted for spanning many genres and formats. Karen’s books cover such genres as women’s fiction, romance, mystery/police procedural/cozy, suspense, paranormal, futuristic, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, inspirational, thriller, horror, chick-lit, and action/adventure. She also writes children’s books, poetry, and writing reference titles such as her bestseller, First Draft in 30 Days, Cohesive Story Building, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas, and  Bring  Your  Fiction to  Life:  Crafting  Three-Dimensional  Stories with  Depth and  Complexity.  Her newest, Writing  Blurbs  That  Sizzle–And  Sell!, is available now.

Karen used to run a blurb service for authors. She’s crafted back cover and high concept blurbs for all of her own books and series as well as those for the stories in several award-winning anthologies, and evaluated, revised and crafted series, back cover and high concept blurbs for the entire backlist of nearly five hundred books in one publisher’s catalogue.

You can check out more of Karen’s many books with Writers Exchange on her author page (which will include the 130 mentioned above, plus more new books as they come out).


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