When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before—met him on the river.
From Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
A few days ago I finished ready True Colors by Kristin Hannah. As I continue this journey of reading to analyze author technique– as well as to enjoy the story– I am exploring authors I have never read before. While reading this novel I was impressed by Kristin Hannah’s ability to create well-defined, dimensional characters.
What I learned from this reading was that characters must indeed be multi-dimensional. Real people have flaws. Even the hero or heroine will have flaws. They may be physical, emotional, moral or behavioral, but they do have flaws. The meanest individual likewise has some good traits about him. In a well written novel that trait may be something from his past, something that has changed due to a defining event in his/her life, but there is, or was, something redeeming about his personality. To create real and engaging characters it is necessary to find ways to show both the good and the bad characteristics.
Developing effective characters requires using all of the writing skills available to us. We must use dialogue, show behaviors, expose insecurities, reveal strengths, explore thoughts and be sure that each is consistent with the character we want to reveal.
Recently I have been bogged down on a story I am writing. Yesterday I took time to explore who my characters really are. I did it with a simple list of characteristics, habits and behavior. It gave me a better idea of what scenes would be appropriate and in character with the people I had envisioned. It also made realize which scenes were inconsistent with the characters I had created. It was definitely worth my time to do a better job of identifying my characters.
I am pretty certain that this is a process I will continue to use in all of my writing.