Friday, January 14, 2011

Tall, Dark...and All Wrong

When I first started writing, I was dreamy over the perfect heroes I could create. Devastatingly handsome, charming, and smart, of course. I created a perfect list for a perfect hero. In fact, I created perfect heroines, too. No problems, no worries, no fretting about their weight or their hair or their past. And then I'd let life happen to them. Car crashes, kidnapping, whatever I could think of to create disaster for them.

But what did that give me? Conflict for sure--which is essential for a novel. But making perfect characters didn't give them any room for growth. Any reason for readers to want to know more because by the time I had the first scene established, my perfect characters were simply waiting around for something bad to happen to them and they'd handle it accordingly.

So I studied ways to give characters more dimension and the depth they needed to capture a reader, and came up with a handful of ideas to help create interesting--though not quite perfect--main characters.

Make history.
This not to say dump back story in the first chapter but a great way to add depth to a character is to give them a challenge from their past. Something to overcome. A way for them to grow.

Quirks and Imperfections.
Main characters don't have to be physically perfect. Nor do they have to act perfect all the time. A quirk or physical imperfection can endear a reader and give them something to relate to.

Play opposites.
Another great way to add dimension, depth, and definitely some juicy conflict is to create main characters that conflict with other characters. Different beliefs or ways to handle situations, or different personalities.

Create the beginning from the end.
Appealing characters are characters that can grown, learn, and change to become better people. So if you know where you want your characters to be (spiritually, emotionally, etc.) by the end of the story, try to place your main character far from that at the beginning of the story.

All right, so maybe you don't have to go as far to give your characters obsessions. But tossing in an interesting hobby or unusual way of doing things (even a quirk like mentioned above) gives readers one more thing to draw them to your character.

Using one or a few of these has made my characters imperfect but also more relatable, which is a great goal. And on the other end, it doesn't hurt to give characters those few redeeming characteristics. A relatable character makes for a sympathetic reader which is exactly what you want.

What are tricks you use to give characters depth and make them appeal, in less than perfect ways, to your reader?


Jennifer Shirk said...

Sometimes I resort to making them "clumsy" physically or maybe even a "fumbler" in life.
Or I try to look at myself and see what "issues" I have and tweak them a bit for a character. :)
(I have a lot to choose from) LOL

Sarah Forgrave said...

Love this list, Cindy! I'm excited to plot my next wip because the hero and heroine have completely opposite personalities. It should make for lots of fun conflict. (Only a writer would put *fun* and *conflict* in the same sentence, lol.)

Gia Cooper said...

This is a great post! I read a book once where the author had her MC say quotes and antidotes all wrong--just mixing up a couple of words, making it sounds hilarious, but more-or-less meant the same thing. I liked that.

Angie Dicken said...

My characters growth is usually spiritual...And with that, their reactions and reasons for doing things progress through the story to show their growth by the end of the story.
Not a perfect formula, sometimes I get to wordy with their thoughts!
Great post!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lol, Jennifer. I love that approach. Drawing from real life is a great idea because it makes characters more believable.

Hey Sarah! I love stories in which the hero and heroine have conflicting personalities. That already starts of the story with so much potential and really makes me want to read more.

Hi Gia. I enjoy fun little quirks like that, too. It really makes me relate to characters and enjoy reading about them.

Angie, I think that's common (strong spiritual growth) in many Christian novels. And you're right, it can be challenging--how much or how little of their thoughts do you put in? But it sounds like you have a good grasp on where you want your characters to be by the end of the novel. Can't wait to read one of your stories someday :)

Katie Ganshert said...

I love these! Especially creating the beginning from the end. Great advice!

Keli Gwyn said...

Developing characters is such fun. Your list includes some great tips, Cindy. Choosing my character's quirks is something I really enjoy.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I thought your idea of creating the beginning from the end was an interesting idea. I will have to try that!

Tess Malone said...

Love that you added obsession.

In a short I wrote ages back, my main guy was an investigator, the story was light enough, but I gave him a bondage/s&M fetish. It was a challenge to keep that light. It was okay initially, I was able to manage a few puns but suddenly Daniel's fetish began to take him over. Apparently it was much more disturbing and intense than I'd originally considered. It gave him more depth and definition...and to my surprise, it made him too 'much' for this short.

I wasn't about to kill him off or abandon him - his story had captivated me...but I was forced to remove him entirely from that short, start all over with a different character and something less choking for a quirk. No, I had to save Daniel because he decided he was more suited for a much longer and more intriguing tale of mind games.

Doncha love it when they tell you how it's gonna be? ;-p