Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Deepening your Characters

Since we have some new readers, let's talk characters again. Fantasy characters are a bit different from other characters. You may have heard it said characters need to be 3D. I would argue fantasy characters need to be 4D. No matter what, our characters need to be real, alive, interesting, believable. How can we do this?

Here are some rules to get you started. Next week, I'll share an exercise to help you really deepen your characters.

6 rules for characters
*Make them suffer (not random)
*Allow their attempts to reach the goal to fail during the course of the story
*Despite the successes, get them to a place of no return
*Consider forcing the protagonist to question their assumptions (am I doing the right thing? Maybe there’s another way to believe.)
*Provide tension on every page (any kind, excitement, fun, or not)
*Give your characters qualities that sometimes serve them well and sometimes don’t

Let's talk character development!


  1. I think I've mentioned this before, but I use Brandilyn Collins' 4 D's: Desire, Distancing, Denial, and Devastation. The character desires something badly throughout the book, and that drives their decisions. They go through distancing, when they move further away from their desire, then denial, where they sill might get their desire if they work really hard, and finally devastation, where all hope of them reaching their dsire is lost (or so the reader thinks.) This is probably one of the most important aspects of character development for me.
    I also have a character questions sheet that I fill out. It answers everything from what they look like to their personality to what they like to eat (which can be fun with fantasy!) ;0)

  2. I know a lot about my characters, too. Most of it doesn't make it into the story, but it helps me know how they'll react to situations. It also helps them become real to me.

  3. Sometimes it's also good to throw in a not-so-evil antagonist so that there's more tension and the reader doesn't know what's going to happen.

  4. that's a neat idea, danielle

  5. What I've done (probably due to an inherent weakness of some kind or other) is create a bad guy who's not always bad. He's real, and deep, and suffering, and his pathway from good and right makes perfect sense and is even justified in his own eyes. He sees himself as in the right, but he also has moments of "weakness", where he wonders whether he could, after all, be wrong. And, of course he is. Why am I weak? Because I'd rather write about him (an evil character) than even my main character. :)

  6. I agree with Rachel. No one likes to be able to predict everything, so having a character who throws the reader off is good. But only if you have a good reason for it. Don't do it for the sake of fooling people.

    Amanda, I love, love, love writing my villian in Fairyeater! She's funny and snarky and doesn't care a bit what she says. I think there's a little of that in all of us. And as the novel goes on, she changes and there is turmoil within her. It brings life to the story.

    What we need to make sure we do is have our hero/heroine as strong as our villian, whether that's emotional or physical ... or in our case as fantasy writers, magical. It's even better to have the villian stronger so the hero must fight harder.

  7. Good idea, Danielle!

    I like to have lots of tension between main characters.

    And Pam, your villain does sound somewhat fun, to write and to read. Wow, that's sure a different thought than what I'm used too... :0)

  8. This is a really great post and I'm glad I didn't miss this. I love to um, torture my characters just a bit. I always make them do something they absolutely don't want to do. (not a bad thing, but something to make them grow/change, etc) and then I try to give them a new limit after the character change. It always keeps things fun.

  9. Forcing your main character to do something she really doesn't want to it is a great way to increase tension. I did that in Fairyeater. But we also have to remember it needs to slide naturally into the story. If we stick it in for no good reason, the reader will know it.