I was reading a friend’s new novel this week, and I thought of a few things that I would like to share. The writer had a really good story, a good hook, and a solid plot, but, alas, his/her characters were flat. They liked the real-life quality a reader needs from a character. They needed more depth of personality.
Let me try to give you an example. One character, let’s call him Bob, had a phobia of funeral homes. Since Bob’s wife died on their honeymoon, he had not been able to set foot in a funeral home. The writer had Bob’s mother call and ask him to go to a funeral of a friend because she couldn’t get there. In my humble opinion, Bob agreed too soon in order to please his mother. There was no argument, he just said yes. Even after he agreed there was no real regret or anxiety. Oh, there was a little bit, but not enough to really make the character stand out in a reader’s mind. Now my friend is a good writer, but I think what happened here is he/she let a good plot override the richness of the characters.
What can you do when your characters show up a little dreary? Give them a quirk. Have them be afraid of something ridiculous, have a speech impediment, a twitch, a wart on their face that they are self conscious about…Something that will make them interesting. But don’t stop there. Through dialogue, bring them to life. Give them an accent. Maybe they have a drawl or a nasal tone to their voice. Give them a personality. Let the reader like and dislike things about them. For my friend, I suggested the use of Showing Vs. Telling to bring Bob to life. If he has a true phobia of funeral homes he will begin to sweat, get an upset stomach, cry, or possibly even throw up at the mere thought of a funeral home. He would have argued with his mother until she became angry with him over his silly obsession. After all dead people can’t hurt you, right? Show the reader through your character’s reactions how they feel about things. If it fits your character’s personality have them use humor to express how they are feeling. The point is, make them pop off the page using all those tools you have available to you in your imagination.
Building a personality sketch can help. Review one of my earlier tips for a great personality questionnaire that you can use to bring those little things in your character to life. There is nothing worse for a reader than a flat character. Breathe some life into yours.