How do we create characters that are nuanced and complex without being stereotypical, flat, or strange caricatures of themselves? The key is to know them. Like, really know them.
Recommended reading: How to Plan a Character Arc
Hello writers. I was talking with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago who said this about her historical fiction work and progress. She said, “It feels like a fine line between making my characters into weird caricatures and making them boring. I just want them to come alive as a believable people with real foibles and not come across as contrived.” This was a really eye-opening comment for me because, of course, we all want our characters to be believable, interesting, and imperfectly perfect, right? But like she said, it is walking a fine line between too much and not enough. How do we know if our characters are truly believable? Well, as with most things writing related, there’s not one simple answer. Shocker, I know. Just once I wish there was, don’t you? But that said, I do have one thing that I think is essential.
In order to write believable characters, you have to believe them, and in order to believe them, you have to know your characters, like really know them. Today we’re going to talk about how to create a fictional character that is three-dimensional and fully fleshed out. We’re not talking here about their character arc or how they’re moving through the story. This is more like a snapshot of them standing at the starting line of your book, ready to get started on their journey. But before we dive in, I wanna let you know about a special offer I’ve got going right now. My mini course, the Compelling Character Lab, is available for purchase for just $47. It’s a self-guided set of steps that you can take any character through in order to develop them into the three-dimensional, nuanced, and complex personalities you want them to be. Grab the Compelling Character Lab at the link in the description below.
Okay, so the first lens I’d like you to look through is considering only your character’s physical appearance. When it comes to appearance in a novel, you don’t need to do a full length mirror, top to bottom description of your character on the page. In fact, please do not do that <laugh>. But you do need to have that clear picture of them in your mind. Close your eyes and visualize your character. Get as detailed as you can. Look at their hair, eyes, skin, and clothes. Consider their height, the build of their body. Then identify the five or so details that are really important, that tell us something about them that really matters. Do they have a piercing stare, a wide smile, a punk style. For each detail that you choose, ask yourself why it matters. Does the piercing stare come from some interpersonal skill that’s going to impact her story?
Is the wide smile covering for something darker? Does her punk style indicate that she wants to stand out for some reason? Remember, the details you choose are things that tell us something about their personality or their history. So write a list of these things and keep them nearby when you are writing. Then weave them in as you tell your story in ways that are natural. The second lens to look at your character through is examining their physicality. Physicality is about how the character uses their body to move through the world, how they interact with the space around them, and how they feel in their own skin. Again, you’ll want to know in your own mind as much as possible, but then just choose a handful of details that tell the reader something important about the character as it relates to the story. For example, if they’re insecure and shy, they may have shoulders that round in and spend a great deal of time looking at the ground.
If they’re awkward and gangly, then they’ll probably be bumping into things, tripping, or knocking things over from time to time. The third lens I invite you to look at your character through is how emotions feel inside their body. This one is important for you to explore. Consider how your character feels when they’re angry. Where do they feel it in their body? Their throat? Their chest? How about when they’re stressed? Consider listing five emotions they’re likely to feel throughout the story and describe the way they feel those emotions in their body and how they react in response. Create a list and keep it with you as you write. For more on character development, I highly recommend checking out the previous video, How to Plan a Character Arc. The link is in the description below. And if you want more tips for writing a novel and you know someone else who might enjoy this video, please subscribe and share. I’ll see you next time. Happy writing.