Characters aren’t real people, thank God, I’d hate to run into American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman in a dark alleyway. However, your characters should feel like real people. They should have a life outside of the plot and a rounded personal history. Here are a few techniques to achieve rounded characters without flashbacks, exposition, or info-dumping.
Giving quirks to your characters helps round them out and balance them so they’re not just conflict conquering machines. A quirk is a behavioral device that makes your character distinct. In my WIP, the badass assassin who hunts magic users just wants to cook. He loves eating, cooking, and ultimately aspires to open a restaurant. The cooking dimension creates a character with more depth than a simple assassin who does nothing other than hunt magic users. Any behavior can be a quirk and they are highly individual, so the options are limitless.
Dialogue can really give your character a sense of roundness. The way someone speaks says a lot about them and gives an insight into things like upbringing, education, attitude and more. Look at this example.
“Aight, but it’s gon cost ya a shiny gold coin,” the gravedigger said.
“Correct, but I require payment in gold for the pleasure,” the gravedigger said.
What different inferences do you draw from these? I draw a difference between the level of eloquence and the education/cultural refinement that comes with that. There’s also a distinction in how polite the two gravediggers are. Dialogue doesn’t always have to match up with the preconception of an archetype, either. Sometimes juxtaposition works best.
Even a fire-breathing zealot has doubts and your characters should have doubts too. No matter their mission, whether it’s avenging a loved one or starting a successful supermarket, they should doubt whether they’re doing the right thing. Doubts add a level of realism to the character and they add a layer of conflict.
If you’re writing a story with multiple POVs, a different POV can show a different side of your character. Reading a chapter from the protagonists POV will reveal some things about them. Reading a chapter from the protagonist’s mother will reveal different things about the character. A chapter from the protagonists significant other will reveal different things again.
A character should have a number of strengths that let them overcome conflict, but they should also possess a number of flaws that make things difficult. Having only strengths, or only flaws, will lead to a flat character.
How do you add depth to your characters? Drop in the comments and let’s talk writing. Follow for more thoughts from a daily discovery writer.
More writing posts here.