How to Create Depth in Characters
Characters make the core part of your story. They are the ones that provide depth and guide the story forward. As of its most crucial elements, it becomes important that your characters are well-rounded and compelling. Last year, we wrote extensively about the various types of characters: protagonists, antagonists and other stock characters. This time, we will be telling you how you can create them with depth, how you can make them realistic and relatable.
How do writers create characters that we relate deeply to? How do they make them so realistic that we want to go into their universe and be a part of their happenings? Why are we so invested in their lives,m actively rooting for them? These are the types of questions we hope to answer in this article.
As you may have gathered, there are roles that characters inhabit in a story that may determine their course of action. For example, a protagonist is heroic, and an antagonist is villainous. (Of course, this is a generalization that is made purely for understanding the elements of a story.) There are also guidelines about specific kinds of characters in specific genres: like detectives in a crime mystery or a wizard in a fantasy novel. Due to the specificity, these characters will have traits that are already implicit; ones that your reader might expect. For example, the detective is naturally inquisitive or the wizard shows exceptional wisdom in guiding the protagonist.
But if the audience already knows what to expect, then where is the suspense? Doesn’t the character become automatically predictable?
Perhaps. But there are ways to fix this. The trick is to introduce depth to establish that a character is more than what the story needs them to do.
#1: Go beyond archetypes
The key is to go beyond the formula. Develop their personalities to give them their own voice. Talk about little things like the food they like to eat, their favourite color, maybe a detail about their favourite book or so on. Think about what they love and what they don’t like as much. Your guiding question could be: what makes this character tick?
#2: Find out their motivation
As a writer, you need to figure out these three things: goals, motivations, and intention. What does that mean, you ask? A goal is what a character wants to do/achieve, a motivation is why the character wants to do it, and the intention is how a character wants to do it. Once you’ve figured these things out, you can map out the ch=ourse of your character’s action.
#3: Understand their emotional landscape
Your characters will seem lifeless if all the reader sees from them is a series of actions. Your characters, though fictional, have their own set of emotions too! Your job as a writer is to tap into them. What makes them happy? What makes them sad? What excites the? What haunts them? These are all things you can think about.
#4: Explore their flaws
One way to add depth to your characters is to explore their negative aspects. Reality isn’t a bed of roses, and realistic fiction captures that sentiment. Explore their flaws and failing in their ideologies. Your character’s voice, this way, is not just restricted to what you write about them since what’s on paper is not selective to their virtues. It introduces an element of ‘greyness’ which allows your character to be interpreted differently by different people. Maybe even by the same people across different readings!
#5: Go beyond what’s on paper
What your readers see in a story is only a glimpse of your characters. If it’s a story across a short period of time, your readers may get a closer look at your characters’ behaviour, for instance. There is so much that they don’t get to see. There’s a lot that goes unsaid.
As a writer, if you restrict yourself to fleshing out characters only to the extent of the events of your book, your study of them may look incomplete. After all, your character just didn’t emerge out of a vacuum, right? Within their universe, they definitely existed before and after the events of your story.
One way is to overcome this is to place them in circumstances outside of what you are writing about in your story. This is simply an exercise for you to get in the shoes of your character to understand how they would react in these situations. This allows you to navigate their characteristics and belief systems on a much larger scale, which you can later incorporate – implicitly or explicitly – into the story.
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