Aug 19, 2013

How to Add Depth to Your Characters by @CarolineFardig


How to Add Depth to Your Characters
by Caroline Fardig

Author of Just a Little Crush

I love my characters. They’re so real to me—they’re like my friends. I enjoy “hanging out” with them while I’m writing. I laugh with them, I cry with them, and I understand their innermost thoughts and emotions. (I feel the need to clarify that I do know that they’re in fact not real—and that I do have actual human friends.) But isn’t that what writing and reading are all about—immersing yourself in the people and the setting…and becoming part of the story?

But what about those novels that fail to make you feel like you know the characters inside and out? You know, the ones with one-dimensional heroes or heroines with no backstory, or the ones whose characters’ actions and reactions either don’t make sense or are completely opposite of their personality. How should writers approach their character creation and development so that their characters will be so vivid, so lifelike, that they jump out of the pages and into readers’ lives?

Be the characters. Every single one of them. If they’re speaking, thinking, reacting, or whatever—be them doing it. Get inside their heads. Dig deep into their neuroses. Feel their pain. Walk a mile in their…well, you get the point.

To make your characters seem like living, breathing beings, you as the writer must truly empathize with their feelings. Ask yourself, if you were this person in real life, how would you react to a given situation? Decide if he or she is the type of person who flourishes during times of trouble or flops down for a good cry. Is he or she easily angered or easy-going? It may be helpful to make yourself some notes outlining each person’s strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, views, passions, and quirks.

After getting a handle on each character’s traits, allow those traits to be evident in the dialogue. If your hero is well-spoken and egotistical (like mine), don’t make him sound uncertain or be wishy-washy. If your heroine is outspoken (like mine), let her make someone who is smarmy and unlikeable squirm as she puts him in his place. Don’t be afraid to play up a character’s physical quirks as well. Have someone who is clumsy intermittently making messes and bumping into things. Have the neurotic character constantly fiddling with his clothes or glasses. A character and his dialogue should match. For example, the laid-back country boy shouldn’t have perfect grammar, and the prim and proper librarian shouldn’t speak loudly or use slang. In keeping the characters “in character”, it also helps the reader to easily distinguish one character from another. Dialogue and voice should belong unique to each character. Your reader should be able to tell who is speaking by what kind of words are used and the way in which they are spoken, not because you insert a “said Bob” at the end of each of Bob’s lines.

Give your characters a backstory. Why do we love Batman so much? Not because he can kick butt and take names—but because of what poor little Bruce Wayne had to endure as a child. For example, if your readers aren’t aware that your heroine had once been left at the altar, how can they possibly understand and sympathize with how difficult it is to open her heart to your hero? Minor characters deserve a backstory, too, or at the very least a hidden talent or a secret. Treat them like the “minor characters” in your own life! I don’t know about you, but I’m always discovering that my long-distance friends have interesting hobbies and accomplishments, usually via Facebook, that I didn’t know they had. Everyone has something about them that others find interesting, and applying that idea to your characters gives them depth.

And lastly, don’t be afraid to let your characters make stupid mistakes, especially the leads. Do you know anyone in real life who makes the perfect choice in every situation? Heck, no! People make mistakes, and that’s what makes us human. Perfect, boy scout heroes are boring! Prim and proper heroines are boring! Let your lead say something to hurt someone’s feelings—you can get a chapter’s worth of drama out of that. Have your hero commit a less-than-legal act, and then let him deal with the fall-out. On the other hand, have your “bad guy” do something nice for someone or be kind to animals. For the most part, no one is either all good or all bad all the time. Let your characters show all of the facets of their personalities, and you will end up with a story full of memorable, lovable characters the reader will cherish for years to come.

CAROLINE FARDIG was born and raised in a small town in Indiana.  Her working career has been rather eclectic thus far, with occupations including school teacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom.  Finally realizing that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, Caroline has completed her first novel, It’s Just a Little Crush, and is currently hard at work churning out a second novel in the series.  She still lives in that same small town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

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Caroline's Romantic Suspense novel, It's Just a Little Crush, is on sale for 99¢ from August 17–21, 2013! Pick up your copy today!

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