In contemporary fiction, one of the greatest tendencies of the budding novelist is to develop characters that are flatter than the state of Florida. One-dimensional characters create boredom, prevent your reader from sympathizing with them, and make your entire story fall flat. If you’re looking for a way to improve your character development, here are some tips for building better people to inhabit your next story:
1. Watch out for cliches. We’re all familiar with “the hooker with the heart of gold” (Pretty Woman) and the unreliable narrator with dissociative identity disorder (Fight Club, Secret Window). No one wants to read about a character they’ve met before. Put simply, if you’ve heard it or seen it in a movie, on television, or in another book, either throw it out or turn it on its head.
2. After you’ve managed to pick out the cliches, look for ways to defy your readers’ preconceived expectations. For example, if your protagonist is a cheerleader who is sleeping with the football team, find a way to change it up and deviate from the stereotype. You could, for instance, paint a picture of an unattractive cheerleader who only made the squad because her mom is the school principal. See how much more interesting that is already?
3. Give your characters flaws. In the previous example about the unattractive cheerleader, the protagonist’s flaw would be her homely appearance. Flaws are essential to characterization because they make your characters seem more human–and, as a result, much more sympathetic. When developing flaws for your characters, consider the emotional and mental as well as the physical. While there’s nothing wrong with making a character fat or ugly, wouldn’t it be more interesting to give them schizophrenia?
4.Don’t go overboard with physical description. It doesn’t matter too much what your character looks like. Just give a brief overview–with one striking detail, such as a beaked nose–and your audience will be able to come up with the rest.
5. If you can’t get into a character’s head, try writing up a one-page character history. On this page, you can include your character’s age, appearance, wishes, dreams, failures, successes, possessions, love interests, hobbies, occupations, philosophies, and so much more. This piece of paper will be a guideline as you go through writing a draft of the piece. Not all of the information needs to make it into the work itself, but it’s useful to keep in mind.
In closing, characters are one of the most significant elements regarding writing fiction. After all, most people read fiction to learn about people who are different from themselves. By improving the quality and depth of your characters, you can make your prose much more appealing to your readers.
What do you think about these tips? How do you go about creating your characters?