Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Character Depth

It's the first Wednesday of the month which means another go around of The Insecure Writer's Support Group.


This month I want to keep it simple and ask you guys a question. I have a character, whom I love very much, that is a naturally good person. The only problem is I've had some people tell me this character is a little flat. So here is my question --

What would you do to make a character, that is naturally good and nice, have more depth?

I really want to flesh out my story and make it strong, but sometimes I get stuck. Thank goodness I have you guys around to help me become a stronger writer. :D

32 comments:

Keru (a.k.a. Manny) said...

Hmm... my first thought is to give them something quirky, like a favorite T-shirt of Odie (from the animated Garfield show back in the 90s) but... that's kind of a "quick fix" and your character has potential for so much more. If your character is naturally nice and a good person, then you could focus on exactly why they are that way. I mean, I think it takes someone of strong convictions to be a genuinely nice (and not snarky or sarcastic or bitter or critical) person. So, what could make a person want to be so nice? Maybe a past lover who made him/her want to be a better person? Religious views? A strong sense of responsibility from a penny-pinching childhood? I think you have lots of options open there. (^__^)

David said...

There are people in the world who are flat, talk in a monotone, tell jokes that aren't funny, boring (I know, I'm one of them). I think it depends on the personality you're trying to paint an image of in the mind of the reader. I try to add depth to a person with dialog interaction, physical description using a variety of senses, and how other characters perceive him/her, not just the main character.

Huntress said...

what terrifies your character? What would he/she never say or do then have them do it.

He/she has inner conflict. What is it? Now why can't he/she achieve it? What would happen if he/she doesn't?

what is his/her defining quality? Now write a scene that describes the opposite.

Joanne said...

When I'm a little stuck with my writing, I try coming at the situation or character from a completely unexpected, never-think-it-will-work angle. It never fails to work! So try something with the character that is so out there, you just know it would never work. You might be surprised ...

Sarah McCabe said...

Tempt him/her. He/she doesn't have to give in to the temptation, they can remain good, but have it be something that really does tempt them.

Theresa said...

That's always my biggest fear, having a flat character. I had my mom read my last WIP before any critique partners and that was one of the things she said to me. My biggest fear come true. I went back in and added more descriptions to the characters and then I gave them little things that only they do. Such as pinches the bridge of their nose when they are stressed, drum their fingers on their legs, table and anything they can, fidgets, bite their nails. You can even have someone who always wears a particular piece of jewelery, article of clothing or even a hat. It's the little things that make them stand out. Just like it's the little things that set real people apart from others. Now when I finish the first draft and I go back to revise, that is the first thing I do. For me it's a ton of fun.

Anonymous said...

Ooohhh there's a toughie. It's always hard trying to conjure up someone else's idea of a character as obviously you know what they look like, who they are and their background etc etc, but as somebody already said. Play around with situations,quirky situations where this character wouldn't usually find themselves. Xx

Anonymous said...

I have the same fear. Do you have any interior monologue showing their inner thoughts and desires? Sometimes when a reader says a person is flat, it might be because they haven't been able to relate to them/get to know them and interior monologue can help (but don't go overboard). This would allow you to show some of the struggles a nice person has in daily interaction with others. It's not easy being nice, and it can also be misinterpreted by others, or he/she feels guilt if they think they've "slipped", etc., though you need to be careful in not having her come across as a pollyanna...

Anonymous said...

A scar and a backstory?

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I wonder if you could show her being nice because she's always been nice, but that at times it is difficult - that she isn't always nice for the right reason. Or if she wants something but she doesn't chase after it because she is nice and her getting that would come at a cost to someone else.

Ruth Josse said...

Flaws and imperfections. Even nice people have them. Make sure they are apparent. Maybe she's a good and nice person but has major road rage issues, or secretly can't stand someone in her life or worries about getting old.

Emily R. King said...

I'm with Ruth. Make the character believable by giving him/her a vice. Perhaps the flaw is being a perfectionist. :)

Gwen said...

Usually characters are flat because you as an author don't know them as well as you could (in my opinion). Get to know your character a bit more, I know there's a blog fest starting next week focusing on characters, that might help.

Jessica Salyer said...

Depending on your storyline, you could add a subplot that incorporates that character. Maybe a secret from her past that haunts her today?

Angela Cothran said...

You have great ideas here. I have a character that is a little like this, very kind and unselfish. What I did to beef her up is give her a tortured background, that way people marvel at her goodness considering where she came from. Just a thought. Good Luck!

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Everyone - no matter how good - has a flaw, a vice, a secret.

David P. King said...

Sure, your character is naturally nice on the outside, but what about the inside? Do they struggle with something private that no one noes about? Any morality issues at stake? Do they secretly wonder what it would be like to murder someone? Just some thoughts.

First Wednesday of the month, huh? I might have to join this group next time. :)

Krista M said...

Know your character... what are their flaws and weaknesses? Would they spend six hours doing their hair or two minutes and then hurry late? I've struggled with having a character that isn't flat too, but I've learned that if your character has a back story, goals, personality quirks and a strong voice, the reader will feel like the character is real.

Joanne said...

You could give your character flaws which gives them more depth. Nice, good characters are great but they need to be real too, so don't forget to add in a few flaws. They become more interesting and likable. All the best. :)

Michi Ligaya said...

Challenge your character. Even a character that is generally good and nice has things that s/he dislikes or makes them uncomfortable. Put them in that situation, see how they react. Even if it's not for actually in story, write a scene that does it to push the character to their limit. Test drive the character and then that should give you, the author, the POV, to round them out so that they're not quite as "flat" in story.

Nisa said...

Think of the good and nice people you know. What makes them not flat? I'd say it has to do with their gifts and making sure they have a weakness or two to overcome.

Cassie Mae said...

I think sharing something very personal about this character would help them become more real. Catch them crying or in an argument, something that would let the reader as well as the mc (if this is a secondary character.) know that, yes this person is a good and very down to earth person, but he/she is real too, with real problems.

Of course this is all based of knowing absolutely nothing about your wip :)

Anonymous said...

What does she do when no one is looking? Why is she so nice - does she think she has to be to get people to like her? What does she struggle with? (Because everyone struggles with something.) My husband is a super nice guy. He is kind and honest and brilliantly creative. His quirks: he would have a barn of rescued animals if I let him because he is so nice. And we do not have a large yard in our new home, believe me.

Melissa Sugar said...

At the risk of giving the obvious ideas, I would give her a secret to harbor or some character flaw. Maybe she did something in her past that she is very ashamed of? Possibly an addiction that she struggles with. She could have a hidden jealousy trait or maybe she thinks that she is always right or she is too impulsive and does not think about consequences.

Just a thought.

Nancy Thompson said...

Hello JA! I'm a new follower via Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group. I try to meet a few new IWSG participants every month. Tag, you're it!!

Your character needs flaws. He can still be good AND have many flaws. Flaws will make him interesting, three-dimensional, and most of all, relatable. Give him a past with failures and faults. Give him a weakness then something to hope for. Balance strength with humility.

My own MC is a good man, a man of rules and principles, but it's the journey after breaking his own rules, his own principles, that makes him so interesting. It's his vulnerability to failure and defeat and how he pulls himself free of it.

BTW - If you haven't already, you should read these books:

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (literary agent)
The Fire in Fiction also by Donald Maass
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

They are all fabulous and extremely helpful!!

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm visiting late, so all my suggestions have been offered already. Quirks, a flaw, a tendancy to talk to herself... anything that sets her slightly apart... Like I said, they've all be said. Good luck.

Jessie Humphries said...

Okay, it looks like I have nothing new to offer. Everyone has been so comprehensive. Whatever, I suck at advice anyway! :) Good luck.

Charlie said...

Hi! I'm a new follower from the IWSG! I have this same question with some of my characters, but I too have come late to this advice party. I like to try to think of something weird about myself that could apply to the character. Good luck!! :)

The Writing Hour. said...

Pretty much anything I'd have to say has already been said -- I've been reading through the comments for tips as well :) One of my biggest writing fears is having a character who is too flat and undeveloped, it really takes away from the overall story. There are numerous character charts online you can fill out to learn more about your characters (don't know any links off the top of my head.) The better you know a character, the better the reader will too.

Kristin Baker Przybyla said...

I agree with the others who said give her a flaw. Your character can still be a good person, but also be an incurable flirt, sarcastic, timid, bossy, out for vengeance, or a stress eater. All those flaws are characteristics some of my characters have. They can just be a natural part of their personality that distinguishes them from their friends, or something they overcome to make them grow throughout the story.

Jeremy Bates said...

could be as simple as giving him/her a pet she's really attached to... or tragedy in family (parents died when younger etc)

Lady Gwen said...

I think it's all been said above - give a flat character a flaw of some kind. All my characters were flat until I switched to 1st person POV - I don't recommend that if you're too far along, though.