Got Flat Characters?

7 Jun

Before you ask where you’re going, know where you’ve been.

Everybody has a past. Including fictional people. And that’s always easy (for me at least) to forget. You aren’t writing about a person in a single moment in time. They didn’t suddenly appear simply to exist in that one moment, or series of moments, you are writing about. Before whatever is happening in your scene other things happened.

I used to find it really difficult to construct characters. I didn’t know how to make them 3D, heck the word 3D was foreign to me. I wrote characters about as spicy as oatmeal, and much less interesting. The only reason my stores functioned at all was because I’d stolen the construction of a story from other novels. I understood what a story was supposed to look like, but not WHY it looked like that. This left me with a couple of servings of oatmeal and some were-wolves. Yeah, I wrote were-wolf novels when I was 13. I admit it. Really BAD were-wolf novels.

Anyway, as I grew as a writer I discovered something about people. At first I didn’t even connect this to writing, I just started musing about it one day. Probably in church or math class and realized that people- who they are inside and out- are created through memories, and experiences. It wasn’t until later that I connected that idea to writing.

Soon I started to realize how flat my characters were,and that’s when everything fell into place, I suddenly knew what was missing: their pasts! And that idea right there is how I build characters.

The easiest way to discover a character- for me- is to discover their past.

What I’m saying is if you had grown up in a third world country, as an orphan, wouldn’t you be different from who you are now?  Even if you maintained your personality (whom many will argue is in-part genetic) being in that situation would change your outlook on the world. It would effect EVERYTHING about you. And different people will take it differently, for some it would turn them bitter, others would only appreciate what they had more.

And that’s one of the things I love about writing. I get to look into these peoples minds and pick at them like last nights leftovers! It’s awesome! I love being able to explore the situations they were in and understand why they handled them the way they did, and how it effected them.

It’s gorgeous! I think I’m geeking out right now… let me just take a minute to calm myself.

*one minute*

Okay, I’m good now. *Ahem* As I was saying, understanding characters is about knowing where they come from, what they’ve seen, and what they’ve done about it.

For example, I’ll use my MC from my novel CARVE (whose trailer you can see in THIS POST.)

Her name is Sage Mason.

Background situation: grew up as an invalid, with a terminal disease.

So, this above situation is what’s going to shape her character. From here you just have to ask yourself what kind of person she is. Will growing up isolated make her bitter, angry, or will it make her fearful of the outside world? Will she yearn to leave her home or resign herself to die? What does she do when she sits in that house all alone? How does she react to others? Is she afraid of strangers, intrigued, or just jealous?Does she believe their will be something after her death?

Once you understand how she has reacted to the situation, and how she feels about growing up in that situation you know who she is. You understand her core character traits, and BAM! You have a person. Not a character. A freakin’ person! Awesome right?

Maybe I’m over simplifying this. How do you all build characters?



6 Responses to “Got Flat Characters?”

  1. Brigid June 7, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Good advice! Thinking up pasts for characters is always important … and fun! 😀 (Bahaha, and don’t feel bad about writing werewolf stories … I went through a phase where I wrote quite a bit of really bad paranormal romance. Urrrgh.)

    Anyway, I’m not really an expert on character building, because the way I create characters is kind of … random. I try to plan out characters sometimes (by doing character inventories and whatnot), but usually I just kind of wing it and let them develop on their own throughout the story. I mean, I do think about the characters’ pasts and how it affects them, but as for other things––like their general personalities and such––I kind of just let it happen, and it usually works out okay. For me, I think the most important part is figuring out character motivation––since every character wants something, and I have to figure out what they want and why they want it and how they plan to get it. And that can be more confusing than it sounds. XD Oh, characters…

    • nkeda14 June 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      Character development is difficult to explain. As I said, I’m probably over simplifying it. I usually come up with the situation as I said, and then I see how that effected them. Then that gives me a basis to develop them on in draft 1. From there I go back and flesh them in draft 2, 3, 4… etc. I just think it’s easier to understand people and characters when you know where they came from.

      Maybe that’s why I’m so in love with writing (and reading) prequels!

      • Brigid June 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

        Haha yeah, you could probably write 100 pages about it and not cover it all. It’s such a complicated process. Indeed, it definitely means going through a billion drafts and trying to piece it all together …

  2. Naomi June 8, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    A very good post, you make a very good point.
    The way I do it is when I introduce a new character, be it the MC or just a more minor character, I make a new Word document about them and list everything I can think of. Appearance, personality, family, history (past), ties to other characters, likes, dislikes, etc…
    That way I have a very in depth view of the characters. You have to know you characters. Of course, I don’t then involve every bit of what I’ve written into the story, it may not be relevant to the story what hair colour or what is a person’s favourite food, but their past often is. Even if you don’t explain every little detail, it’s good to be able to have a reason behind actions. People do things for a reason, a character may make a strange decision to any old onlooker, but to someone who knows their past and their experiences it makes sense. Obviously, the reader has to know enough to understand, but I quite like having little tidbits of information about characters that no one else has.
    One of my characters, Marci, ‘s father died a few years prior to the beginning of the story so that shaped her character very much and changed her, as such a tragedy would anyone.
    Anyway, great post, and a good thing to bear in mind. So yeah, the way I keep myself organised is by having this sort of back up file on my characters that I can check back on. Of course, I can change it whenever I like, but it’s nice to have a file on them, if a little bit creepy, haha.

  3. quix689 June 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Hey! I just wanted to tell you that I’m nominating you for the Booker Award. You can check out my post here if you want more details:

    Just wanted to say that I like your blog. 🙂

    • nkeda14 June 12, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      Aww Thank you so much! I’m so happy that you like my blog enough to do that! That’s awesome! Thanks for reading 🙂 It means a lot!

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