Round, flat, nuanced, complex, realistic, maddening, boring...
There are lots of ways to describe your written characters.
One of the questions I get a lot in my writing workshops is how to create really interesting characters. The internet provides a mountain of information on this - as do books - and you may have come across some of these that encourage you to fill out all kinds of info on your characters' back stories. Things like when and where they were born, physical features, favourite subjects in school, pets, and so on.
These are well and good, and if you use them and they work for you: excellent!
I find, at least for me and my writers, these checklists have limited use.
So here's what I do:
What motivates her?
Your character behaves based on what motivates them at a fundamental level. And there are two key motivators. The first is what kind of story goal or objective faces them. This should be pretty clear in your story. Luke Skywalker wants to battle the Empire and rescue the princess. Fiona wants to be saved by her one true love. These are concrete goals that provide motivation for taking action (which, of course, moves your plot along).
The second kind of motivator is abstract. Ah, and now it gets interesting because this motivator is not always obvious when we see your character in action. An abstract motivator is something like: justice, loyalty, love, truth and honesty, generosity.
These are the building blocks for your character's behaviour. If, for example, your lead character is determined to destroy the oppressive government regime (concrete). As she moves through the plot, facing her obstacles, it's her abstract motivator that drives how and what she does. Sense of honesty? Then she won't lie to others. Sense of justice? Then she won't destroy one group in order to save another.
The fun stuff in a story occurs when our hero is placed in a terrible position where they have to question their fundamental beliefs :)
So, have a look at your main characters. Do you understand what their concrete goals are? You should know this. But, do you also understand what their abstract goals and motivations are? Spend a few minutes thinking about these, and writing more compelling characters will flow way more naturally.
Tomorrow, we'll look at the Proustian Questionnaire for fleshing out your main characters.
Hi, I'm David. I write science fiction from a Christian worldview that promotes hope. Want to know the darker details? Click here.
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