Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Character Depth

I'm writing this post because I constantly see book reviews or complaints about books saying that the characters were "one-dimensional" or "caricatures" or "cardboard." But what on earth does that MEAN? I have a hard time figuring that out, so I turned to the tinterweb for answers (as one does). Here's what I found. Thank goodness I was already doing most of these things.

Give your character a goal
If you want your characters to succeed, they need a goal, but think of goals more in terms of character traits and less as part of the plot for this purpose. It sort of follows on what we talked about yesterday--what your character wants. Does your character want to win the love of the high school football captain? Emigrate to Ireland and experience the life of his or her grandparents? Win a prestigious award and prove everyone wrong who laughed at him or her? (And why? But the answer to why is separate.)

Make your character sympathetic
Make him or her human. Give him a failing, but also give him a chance to redeem himself. If your character starts off as a stuck up arsehead, use other characters to reflect the opportunity for reaching out and showing a softer side.

Create character contradictions
Your character speaks one way, but acts another. Does your character spout conservative views to family members at holiday parties, only to bend over backwards when no one is looking and act liberally?

Give them the opportunity to change
And show them doing it, too. If your character was a real hard ass but had a soft core of pudding in his heart, have him change so that more pudding shows through.

These things are what I could find on character depth--and they made sense to me. Do you have any further ideas of what makes characters deeper? I look forward to learning from you.


Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post. You're right. Many writers struggle with making their characters seem real. One thing I'd add is that you want to keep their dialogue realistic, but also in character for what they'd say. For example, an alpha male wouldn't say:"What a lovely day this is with the pretty flowers and fluffly clouds..." That sounds more like something an old lady would say. LOL

Lynnette Labelle

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I think most important for me is creating the character's backstory. Only a bit of it may make it into the actual story, but I, as the author, need to know their history. For instance, a woman who was in an abusive relationship as a teenager is going to react very differently to a boss yelling at her, then one who never had that experience.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Great suggestions, ladies. Backstory and keeping in character is very important.

Julie Dao said...

Great topic! I think it's important to keep characters as realistic as possible in that real humans aren't either all good or all bad. It can be hard for us to relate to a character who is incredibly good or completely bad - shades of both in a character tend to make them more interesting to me.

Tina Lynn said...

I struggle with giving my characters flaws. I think it is important to work that in. Readers won't identify with a perfect MC. Like in the Matrix, when the agent guy was telling Neo that they created the "perfect" world but the humans kept rejecting the program. Same thing. I think the flaws are what give them depth.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Great post! I agree with the comments from the other ladies... it's a fine line between making a character realistic (flaws, warts and all) and still making them likable and sympathetic.

staceyjwarner said...

ah they make sense to me too. excellent post.

much love

Tara McClendon said...

I think it also comes down to the reader being able to identify with some aspect of the character. My MC might have all these things and fall flat to someone who doesn't think or feel like my MC does.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Glad this was useful, thanks to everyone who suggested more, including:

- Make dialogue realistic
- Have a solid backstory
- Give characters flaws
- Identify with an aspect of the character

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