Shallow characters with little development can be one of the most common causes of rejections. The person on the other side of the page (whether agent, editor, or reader) wants to see that the characters are real people, with real lives, living though (and preferably influencing) the events of the story.
So how do you make sure your characters come off this way, and not as one-dimensional props in a linear story?
Driver’s Licenses are usually boring
Well, one thing to look out for is the way you write the descriptions. A problem a lot of us make when describing our characters is to default to the “drivers license” method of describing our characters. We give a bunch of potentially meaningless physical details about them, such as height, weight, hair color, and eye color, expecting that to make them come to life to the reader.
This is a poor way to describe a character for a few reasons. First off, unless it directly affects the story, why should care what color the hair is on top of a character’s head? Or the color of his eyes? Seriously, I don’t even know the color of the eyes on the people I see every day is, so why would I care about a character in a book?
I know some physical description is required, especially if it directly affects the plot, but if it’s not relevant, leave it to the reader to decide what your characters look like.
This may stem from a larger problem as well. If you’re not going much deeper than listing physical traits of a characters and telling us what they look like instead of showing us who they are, then–you guessed it–you’re forgetting that cardinal rule of writing: Show, don’t tell.
But fear not. The solution to this stuff isn’t all that difficult.
Identify the character’s most important personality trait
What differentiates your character from one another isn’t what they do or how they look. It’s how they act. Their interaction with other characters and how they respond to the situations you place them in are what make them real.
And even if you start creating a character with their looks in mind, you really have to get into their head and see how they react to things.
In other words, you’ve got to get to know your characters too. And as much as we all hate thinking about writer exercise, maybe this is one your should try: Throw them into an unexpected situation and see how they act. Put them in a room of people and see who they talk to. Their real personality will come out. Here’s a huge list of personalty traits. Which ones match your character?
Since I started using Scrivener, I started doing a character profiles for the major and minor characters in a novel I had just started. On the character profile pages I also add some background details that may or may not be relevant, and may or may not appear in the manuscript, but help me get to know the characters better. I put down things like their favorite music, tv shows, family members, drinking habits…whatever I can think of that will help me see them as real people.
And in fiction, just like in real life, people are seldom boring when you really get to know them.
What else can you do to bring your characters to life? Leave a comment and let us know!