Thursday, March 18, 2010

Deepening Your Characters: What is at the heart of a complex character? Part 3 in the blog series.

What makes a character extraordinary? Personality? Disposition? Temperament? Individuality? Eccentricity? How much overlap is there?

These are questions Stein asks in his chapter: Competing With God: Making Fascinating People. I think they are a great start to getting to heart of a complex character. He goes on to caution against making a character all good or all bad. Those characters are simply one-sided and not very consistent with real life people. And that is a main key in creating a character - grounding them in reality.

I remember a girl from highschool that was perfect, or at least she acted like that and believed it about herself. I didn't like her, just like I don't like characters who are perfect, with no flaws. Flaw those characters, give us something to identify with.

Stein devotes part of that chapter to changing the character through the course of the work. We all change in life as we mature or react to circumstances. Sometimes those changes are good and other times bad. Here are some random quotes from Stein on changing characters:

Imagine you character in an armchair talking to you. Ask your character questions that are provocative. Let your character challenge you. Disagree with your character. Let him win the argument.

Have your character complain bitterly about something...Listen to the character in this state.

Unfetter your imagination. Can you see your character flapping arms, trying to fly? Or trying to kiss everyone at a party? Or walking in the snow without shoes? Readers are interested in the out-of-the-ordinary.

These are all good exercises to do with your characters. Some of it may even make it into your novel.

The next chapter in the book is: Markers: The Key to Swift Characterization. Stein begins by letting us know that the main character is important but cautioning us about using a stereotype for the minor characters. There is on quote I want to share from this chapter that conveys what conclusions a reader may draw from the detail of a character.

What does incessant chewing of gum suggest about a character? What would an ankle bracelet convey to a reader about a character? Even the transportation used by a character can be a marker.

These markers tell us something about a character and are easily inserted into the minor character's descriptions without being verbose or telling about them. It shows a side of the character and the reader can draw her own conclusion.

In conclusion, there is so much that goes into the heart of a character and in a simple blog post there is only enough room to skim the surface which is why you should go here and check out the other bloggers thoughts in this series. Also post on your own blog for a chance to win a book.

In conclusion I'm going to let you know a way I deepen my characters. I talk with them and imagine them talking back to me. I let them go and follow them, walking in my imagination. I dwell on them and think about them constantly when I'm in the middle of a manuscript. I'll even come to the point where I might say, "Wow, Jefferson would really like that." I get to know them and most of the time they take on their own life and surprise me.


  1. HA--I was just thinking how all the posts were SO different on what went into deepening characters, and then I read yours. We must have shared some brain waves for this one!

    Love Stein's book on this, too---I totally remmeber all the stuff you quoted. I *need* to get my hands on another copy! :)

  2. Ugh-- perfect characters are never fun to read about. Why bother? LOL

  3. I love these exercises! I have one where I "interview" my characters, and I had some fascinating things come out of that. And, it's completely true. No one is all good or all bad. We have bits of each. It's what we choose to bring to the front that make us who we are, but there's always a little bit of the other side within us. It's the same with characters. No one is perfect. :D

  4. Wow, I had two In conclusions there, geez.

  5. I especially love your advice at the end! Nothing more fun than talking with characters, and following them to see where they end up :-)

  6. It's so difficult to create characters that are universal with "out-of-the-ordinary" characteristics. I think that is the place we all struggle for. Nice post, Jenn!


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