Monday, January 14, 2013

Character Development Series: Question #4 - Creating Depth

Previous posts in this series include discussions on human nature, the impression your characters have of themselves, and how that may differ from the impression they give others. Last week we talked about aligning character impressions with their roles in the plot.

Now that we've firmly established the primary impression and role of your character, it's time to add depth. After all, if your hero's primary impression is kindness and all he ever does is act and react kindly, pretty soon readers are going to get bored, or feel like shoving the book down his throat.

This is where your knowledge of yourself and others around you will come in handy. Real people always give a first impression - but it's in peeling back the layers that we find out if someone is truly so cold, or so happy-go-lucky, or so disdainful all the time.

And the answer is always no.

The ice queen villain may use her chilled walls to keep people away and under control. But that's because she's frightened everyone's going to discover she's just as vulnerable as they are.

The loud and obnoxious life-of-the-party guy may use his social charm and humor to hide a fear of rejection. How does he react when a friend finds him at home with his drunk mother?

What about the uber-dignified hero, who always puts his noble causes ahead of his own selfish desires? He might be hiding a well of passion that scares him, so he keeps it under a tight leash, denying it at every turn.

You get the picture.

Now that you've established your character's dominant impression, it's time to ask yourself:

Question #4: What feeling, personality trait, or flaw does your character work to conceal? (consciously, or sub-consciously).

Often to determine this, you'll need to (at least in your head) place the character in their very own personal worst case scenario. It's often only under extreme crisis that we snap out of our 'acts' and reveal what truly lies beneath. So, if you're having trouble determining what your character is hiding from others, ask yourself, what is the one situation they'd do anything to avoid? And how would they act if that scenario occurred?

We're going to work on this flipside of our character's personalities for the next couple questions, so if you make any notes, keep them. They might come in handy for later questions.

Your Turn: Any questions? Or are there any aspects to a character's development your struggling with? Let me know in the comments so I can make sure and cover that aspect in this series.


  1. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on making characters less likable in the beginning and yet still likable. For example, say your protagonist is a bit evil in the beginning, but then toward the end has arched into a good individual. So how then would you go about showing how evil they are, but at the same time making your readers care about and empathize with them so that they're still rooting for them. Does that make sense? Looking forward to your thoughts!

    1. Hi Jae,

      This is just my opinion, but if I wanted to achieve that, I'd find an element to the character that is likeable (and preferably something that would resonate with readers emotionally) and introduce that immediately following the dominant impression.

      I.e. if the hero stalks onto the page and initially comes across as cold and cruel, then in the next scene I'd show them dealing kindly with an infirmed sibling, or fending off an abusive father - something that shows their humanity and gives the reader insight into either WHY they are evil, or shows that they definitely aren't ALL evil. Something that causes sympathy in the reader, and intrigues them.

      Does that make sense?

  2. Great advice Aimee! As always :) I find that the best way to make a villain likable is to have him or her love someone. It's a piece of advice I got from Buffy, lol. But it works!