Sunday, November 14, 2010

Those Pesky Characters

You've come up with a fabulous idea for your new book. You're excited. It's an absoluetely wonderful story with great characters. And you know them well. You can rattle off their age, their hair color, birthdays, favorite colors, where they live, what's in the middle drawer of their dresser, and the names of their best friends. But something is dreadfully wrong. The readers in your crit group aren't seeing them the way you do. They don't get them. They're giving you feedback that includes words like "flat" "cardboard" and "one-dimensional." Are they just idiots, or what?

Obviously not, if you're getting this type of feedback. They're not just jealous or trying to be mean or discouraging. There's a problem and you need to fix it. So, how do you exhale the breath of life into your characters? How do make them jump off the page and into the mind of the reader as a vivid, colorful, real character?

Well, if you really want to know, Jessica Page Morrell has a fabulously informative article on just that subject. Click HERE. She offers some great answers to those difficult questions that writers often face. Things like:
  • How do I make my character unique
  • Ingredients of a great character
  • Using action to reveal character
  • Larger-than-life characters
  • Naming your characters
  • Showing off your characters
  • Creating emotional impact
So carry on. Write on. And keep tapping out those words. If you have any tricks to share on how you create your characters, let us know. Just leave a comment below. We'd love to read it.


  1. Hehe. What I do is act out a scene. I pretend I'm the character and do the things I've given the character to do. In one of my stories I had a seven-year-old girl flick a cherry tomato at her father. So that night, I flicked one at my husband as he was eating his dinner. It splattered all over his forehead, covering his face in tiny yellow seeds. The look he gave me was priceless. I laughed and bolted out of the room before he could catch me. I added that look, and the action to my story.

  2. I have rewritten my characters, oh I don't know, 5 or 6 times for my current WIP. I am very familiar with the "flat," "cardboard," "boring" descriptions, except that they don't come from crit friends. They come directly from me, so when that happens, you know you're in trouble.

    What I usually do (and I did this last weekend) is I pretend to have an interview with my character. It's actually something I think I picked up on this site. It allows me to ask broad, strange questions that develop their quirks, bring out their voice, and help me understand the psychology behind each character's mind. For me, a great character has to be round. They have to have a dark side, be a little messed up, and have a humanity that can be empathized with. My MC would be almost comical in her stereotypical description if it weren't for the rounding out of her personality. My antagonist would be too flat if it weren't for the reasons behind him.

    I've found that it's not so much the tangible facts of a character like hair and eye color, or what their favorite color is, or what they like to eat on their pizza. What makes them stand out is the mind behind all the details. Once I understand their mind, I can make them the colorful person a reader wants to see.


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