Writing Tip: Character Complexity


No choice is ever simple.

Decisions are complex, though they might seem impulsive at the time. We’re influenced by the world around us; the hows and whys of our behavior are shaped by things that seem pointless.

Characters are people; they behave realistically when written with care. Details revealed to readers should have solid backstories; most writers spin their characters hoping to make them believable.

Done this way, projects take longer to finish—but backstory’s worth the wait. It takes time to work out what drives our hero; no choice is random, habits don’t surface out of the blue.

Powerful stories follow realistic characters.

Take history as an example: Choices that shaped the world were influenced by places, flaws, disasters we don’t learn of at first. Each of these details led to the choice, even those not revealed by tour guides.

Like tour guides, we don’t have time to tell the whole story; however, knowing it gives us stability in the writing process. Readers notice when we don’t know a character well enough.

How should we work out our backstory? Since characters are people, we approach them accordingly. Many writers fill in personality sheets or take the Myers-Briggs test for their characters.

All these techniques help us get to know our characters.

A good protagonist should have hopes, fears, and motives. In real life, people are far more than outward appearance; similarly, characters should be more than words on a page. They need depth.

It means we have to fill in blanks, taking up a necessary challenge. Too much is at stake if we put it off; it could make our story shallow, incapable of stirring emotions.

Do you know why your villain causes trouble? Did your hero hesitate before going on the adventure—if not, why? What qualities help your couple get along, what could set them off fighting?

If you can’t answer these questions, take a closer look.

It’s important to know your villain’s motives and what makes your hero fearless before the unknown. In a realistic love story, there should be a balance of things in common and topics to cause friction.

If you don’t know what these things are, sit and have a chat with the characters. Do not skip this process.

When the blanks are not filled, readers notice. We like our heroes to be relatable, or they become annoying fast.

Don’t risk making your novel shallow!

If your characters need fleshing out, there are plenty of articles on the Internet to help. My favorite is Rachel Giesel’s How to Write a Character-Driven Plot in 5 Steps. The tips elaborate on why this is so important.

She’s Novel wrote about using the Myers-Briggs test on characters! My Favorite Method for Building Characters’ Personalities is a must-read.

Finally, author Briana Morgan wrote a guest post for Musehollow, Creating Compelling Characters. Check out this article on her own blog, 11 Steps to Crafting Characters.

Your hero could be vibrant enough to rise above ink and paper.

It takes research and patience, but strong characters make a great story. If you’ve found your own way to overcome this challenge, please comment and share it with us!

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