We’re delving deeper into characters this week with a look at…delving deeper into characters 🙂 No matter how many sympathetic choices you show a character making, readers can’t really connect to a character if there’s nothing of substance to connect with.
As readers, we say that characters are sometimes flat or shallow. Usually, in those cases, I find that the story doesn’t give us enough information about them. If the heroine always does the right thing, but we have no idea why, the story rings hollow. Similarly, if the hero makes a crucial mistake, but we don’t see a deep-seated motivation behind his choice, we can get disgruntled and even confused. They become caricatures instead of characters.
I want my characters to feel like living, breathing people to my readers. The best way for that to happen is for them to feel like living, breathing people to me.
There are plenty of worksheets that can help writers flesh out their characters. Favorite colors, birthday, zodiac sign (and whether they believe in them), etc. I find the best way to flesh out my characters is to just spend time with them.
I spend a lot of time with my characters. Especially in the longer works, where the characters reappear throughout the series, I’ll be with those characters for years. I need to know much more about them than will ever appear on the page.
I have conversations with characters in my head while I’m waiting in lines. I’ll imagine how they might react to a funny or poignant moment in a TV show or movie. I’ll laugh at the thought of them trying to fit in at a family BBQ or to seem normal during a trip to the grocery store.
When I was getting to know Paige, from Business or Pleasure, I had this vision of her and Khel having Christmas dinner with her family. The little mini-story that unfolded in my mind showed Paige convincing Khel that he had to wear a particularly ugly sweater and give a speech in front of her parents. She called it an “Earth Tradition.” Paige is…really something.
But Khel actually loves that she pushes him. He knew she was messing with him, but he played along anyway, because the new things that she gets him to do—that he shocks himself by actually going through with—are part of why he loves her.
I don’t know that I’ll ever write that vignette (although, the end of Khel’s very rousing and moving speech, when Kira stands up and gives the most earnest applause I’ve ever seen, might just be worth it), but it was worth spending the time thinking about for what it taught me about all of those characters. I learned that Khel wants to open up, and that Paige won’t settle for someone who isn’t willing to stretch themselves.
Knowing that Paige has that sort of thing in her fed in to the scene that showed up in Business or Pleasure where she jumps on the back of a would-be alien assassin and blinds him with her body wash—completely naked. She doesn’t have an “embarrassed” button, and she pushes people, including herself, outside of their comfort zones.
This kind of deep knowledge comes across in the actual works, even if it isn’t shared explicitly. It feeds into the sense of realism for each character and informs their choices and helps to give us the reasons behind their actions that we can share on the page. Taking the time to learn more about who our characters are outside of their stories gives them a depth that would otherwise be lacking and gives writers something to draw upon when explaining why the act and react the way that they do.
What kind of everyday activities do you think would be fun to see your favorite characters participate in? A charity car wash? Going for a hike in the park or maybe doggiesitting for a neighbor or friend? Let me know in the comments!