Posted by Ryder Islington, Author of Ultimate Justice, A Trey Fontaine Mystery,and coming soon: Ultimate Game, A Trey Fontaine Mystery
I hope all of you enjoy this article as much as I did. She may only be eighteen but Pamela Nicole has a a working knowledge of how to build a character. Read on as she shares her knowledge.
2 Approaches to Portraying Characters Three-Dimensionally
It’s not uncommon for readers to blame it on the characters when they haven’t enjoyed a book. In fact, poor characterization, Mary-Sues, and flat characters, are the reasons why some books just don’t work, in spite of having a great plot. And that’s where writers begin climbing the walls and request the deity of literature to please make readers just see what perfect characters they have.
So, maybe your beta readers have told you the characters aren’t really there for them, your critique partners aren’t convinced either, or perhaps you, yourself can’t get over the feeling that they’re lacking something.
That’s okay. In order for this post to be useful, you’ve got to accept you may be doing something wrong, or need to do more.
Readers know their thing. If they say characters are your weak point, it’s worth checking it out.
Let’s get to it, then.
Approach #1: The Dialogue and Action
By now, it’s understood you have your characters. Let’s say they are Jane and Joe, BFFs. We’re going to focus on how to use dialogue to portray Jane and Joe in a way that seems believable, and not forced. If you have been reading about shy Jane for now 156 pages and then Jane gets all ‘Let’s Party!’, you might want an explanation. But if this explanation never comes, or it’s just not enough, you have a characterization problem there.
Dialogue plays a important role in characterization, because, while we enjoy reading thoughts and conclusions, it’s what characters say and do what really stick with us.
I’m sure you must be at least okay at writing dialogue. No biggie. Your dialogues are not bad. Maybe there really isn’t anything wrong with them. But I assure you, you can make it even better and make good use of it for the benefit of the characters.
Here are some ideas:
- Read some of your dialogue aloud. Do you feel like you want to laugh? Gag? It needs revising.
- Tweak it so everytime there’s a conversation, the speakers show a trait. (It’s a good idea to keep a list of personality traits for major characters in order for this to be easier)
And for Actions
- Try to always keep your characters in motion, or you’ll bore readers.
- Every thing they do must have consequences. I repeat: Don’t forget the consequences.
- Pay close attention. Jane and Joe do what Jane and Joe typically do, unless they have a reason to not to. Ex. Joe is afraid of the dark, but he enters a dark cave, albeit sweaty and shaking, to rescue his best friend, Jane.Note here that Joe isn’t happy about confronting this fear.
Approach #2: Opposite/Similar Character Traits
This is something I always strive to do. Do you sometimes feel your characters are hard to tell apart from each other? This is the solution. And it’s two-fold. Apart from being the answer to your characterization prayers, it also offers a much needed element in your story: Conflict.
- Likes Gardening
- Movie geek
- Likes Videogames
Now, these situations:
- Jane going with Joe to a party. Jane is unconfortable and this can lead to several embarrasing moments.
- Joe stuck in a study appointment with Jane and preferring to clean rather than study.
And then this one,
- Jane and Joe are working with other classmates in a group project. Both have different but good ideas.
See what I mean? If you dig a little deeper, you can easily build a network of interactions between your characters that brings out the best/worst in them, gives them a distinct voice, and also offers situations you can use for the benefit of the plot.
Happy writing to all!
Every person is the main character of their own story, and no one is less important thant anyone, right? Then, why do we have such a hard time understanding this simple concept? Why do we push people away and keep the wrong one close? In this work of non-fiction, written by a teenager herself, the subject is analyzed to some hard-to-admit depths, using famous quotes and relatable examples, the truth about high schools and human nature in general is revealed.
Pamela Nicole is an Ecuadorian 18-year old writer and blogger. After several attempts at productive hobbies, she discovered she could finish a YA book in three hours and forget about the real world in that time. So, after reading more, and more, she started writing short stories online and a novel draft. She published a short essay based on her own highschool experience. Pamela is currently working on her second novel.