Thursday, October 18, 2012

Three Tips for Character Depth

The best books are ones that have realistic characters, ones that the reader can connect with on an emotional level whether it's a negative or positive emotion.  A story that pulls you in, is usually a story that has real people that could be your friend, or your enemy, or you can put yourself in their place.  It makes you want to know more about them.  But in order to create that for readers, the characters in your story have to have depth.  But how do you achieve that as a writer?

1.  Give them a past.  Most everyone has a reason for the way they act.  Whether it's something that happened to them in childhood, something that happened in adulthood, just living day-to-day shapes us as people.  When you give your characters a past, it brings them to life, shows us that they lived before this story and have a backstory that we can relate to them.  It is the first string in connecting your characters to your readers.  (Of course, you don't want to dump this past or "backstory" on your audience right away.  Dole out morsels to keep interest high.)

2.  Give them a personality.  We all have different personalities and quirks.  Make sure your characters have things that would make them identifiable and relatable.  We all know someone with an overbearing parent or an absent parent.  Someone who chews their nails or talks fast when they're nervous.  Someone who smiles on the outside while suffering on the inside.  Someone who's fun to be around.  Someone who is a great listener.  Give your characters a personality that will draw your readers to them.

3.  Give them a position.  Every story has a conflict or it wouldn't be a story.  Put your characters in the right positions to add to the conflict.  For example, in most books you have a hero or heroine who is afraid of something and during the course of the book they have to face that fear.  Are they coming to that showdown from a position of strength or weakness?  Does that position get better or worse through the course of the book?  Most readers like to see character progression throughout, see that they've grown as a person by the time they read the last page.  So, if you start your hero in a position of weakness, how does that advance the story?  Can they end in a position of strength or is there more to be learned?  And what position does the villain play throughout?  Is his/her strength of position relatable to the hero/heroine?  Careful placement here can really pull your readers right into the heart of your book.

There are many ways to make your characters realistic and relatable.  But the point is, your story is stronger when you know your characters well.  Do the extra homework in making your characters leap off the page.  Your readers will thank you.

Who is your most memorable character from a fiction book?  Mr. Darcy?  Harry Potter?  Edward?


KaseyQ said...

What perfect timing- I’m prepping for NaNoWriMo and I’m hammering out the details of my story. Plot is good, but my main character hasn’t introduced herself to me yet. Maybe these suggestions will help me get to know her better so I can bring her to life for my readers.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Kasey, I'm working on a character bible for my new characters, too, and was just thinking about depth today. Glad it helped.

I'm trying to decide whether it would be possible for me to do NanoWriMo. I really admire those who do!

Debra Allen Erfert said...

I can't do NanoWriMo. Too much happens in November to devote that much time strictly to writing, and I hate the way I feel like a failure when I don't achieve the needed word count to keep up. And I don't like feeling like a failure, so why put myself through it? In some ways I'm an over-achiever, but a woman's gotta know her limitations. I know mine.

I hate to say this, but I don't have a "most memorable character" from a fiction book, unless it would be from my own story. I'm probably biased. *shrugs*

Melanie Goldmund said...

My most memorable character from fiction is (at the moment) Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold's space opera series. Boy, has he ever got a personality! And a past! And a position -- several positions, in fact, over the course of the books.

My own characters have often ended up being mostly me, more or less in disguise. Not memorable at all, in other words Sigh.

Jon Spell said...

My name be Joe Fathom. I used ta work in fast food, but nows I'm my own boss, how 'bout dat? I tink I gotta job fer you. Might gets your hands dirty, if you know what I mean.

Most memorable: hmmm.
Morrolan e'Drien? Dirk Pitt? Sioned? Mat Cauthon? Lots to choose from. =)

Charlie Moore said...

I have many "favorite" characters. The author whose characters I like the most is Louis L'Amour. I named my youngest son (with my wife's approval) Tyrel, after Tyrel Sackett. That is how much I liked that character.