Monday, April 5, 2010

Layers of Characters

I have many characters in my WiP - some main, some supporting. Some appear and disappear within a paragraph. But I remind myself constantly each of them must be there for a reason.

I'm working to make the main characters multi-faceted, even the unlikeable ones. In this latest round of editing, I'm trying to dig deeper, to discover why they do the things they do and why they view the world the way they do. Some characters, honestly, I like better than others - and some, honestly, are easier to write than others.

I'm taking a hard look at my supporting characters asking myself, do they really need to be here, or are they still here because I'm used to having them around? Is the story better with them, or (gulp) without them? I may turn into a character executioner.

In every book I admire, the author has done a wonderful job making the characters real and I want to be able to do that too. (please, please, please let me be good enough) I'm determined to write a book populated with real people, not cardboard cutouts.

It's an odd balancing act: trying to respect each of them and at the same time looking at each with disrespect as I ask myself do they serve their purpose? Has their purpose changed? Do each of my main characters evolve during the plot so that they're at a different place at the end then they were at the beginning? A character that doesn't grow is dull. I don't want dull characters.

Plain, one layer cake can be good - but a multi-layered cake filled with yummy surprises is better. It just takes longer to bake.



  1. Totally agree. I like the cake analogy. For Easter I made a new recipe - Vanilla Mousse Cheesecake. It tasted good, but...blah, no zing, no flavors that popped out, just vanilla-y. So, I know exactly what you're talking about.

    Straight From Hel

  2. I like this analogy as well. As a reader, I have to like the characters or at least they have to make some sense to me in terms of motivation, intention, etc. I am looking forward to tackling these kinds of issues in my writing as I move forward with the new work.

  3. Helen; That does sound good, but then again, it's supposed to be vanilla-y. It wasn't called Vanilla Mouse Cheesecake with a Zingy Surprise. But, I know exactly what you mean. But still, cheesecake...

    Karen; I wish you every bit of luck as you tackle these issues. Wear padding. Sometimes, it hurts.

  4. I want my characters to grow as well - it's easy to see the growth in the MCs, but I've been thinking I need to do more with my villain - introduce her earlier so we see more dimensions. Back to work!

  5. I just had a new character pop in out of no where. In Hatshepsut, I had to meld two characters together. That was a little painful, but it made the novel stronger.

  6. Jemi; I love villains! SOO much fun!

    Stephanie; I call those pop out of nowhere characters mushrooms. They can be very useful and usually have something important to say. I'm thinking I'm going to have to meld as well. Time to don the Dr. Frankenstein outfit...

  7. Carol; I think that's a common problem - the secondary characters can be more fun because the reader doesn't have them in their face the whole time.

  8. Hey, Elspeth, I know you outline...don't you do a pre-writing character profile as well?

    Best, Galen.

  9. Great point, Elspeth! Good point about the secondary characters...they're a lot of fun to write. They do try to steal the show, don't they?

  10. Galen; Yes, I do. But that doesn't mean I write the first few drafts well. *heavy sigh*. I know what layers should be there - it just takes time.

    Elizabeth; They DO try and steal the show - but, bless their hearts, they'd be too colourful for main characters - too much spice spoils the broth.

  11. I'm really craving cake right now!

    Characters and dialog come easily to me. Plots, connecting plot lines? NOT easy! I'm in revision hell, right now, just trying to get the holes in my plots filled.

    Great (yummy!) post.

    Happy Monday,

  12. Lola; I have no problem with dialogue - thank heavens! I know my characters inside and out - I just need to take more care in revealing them. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

  13. So much longer to bake but worth it! I'm always discovering more about my characters, so when I edit I go back add the new layers I've discovered. As for axing characters, I do that to plenty of nameless minors when needed, but usually I have to bulk up existing characters. I start sparse then add what I need for the plot.

  14. Ack! It's so hard to cut out characters you thoughtfully created! I tend to be a little character heavy at first though--have to see where functions might be combined, even though, as conceived, their personalities were really different, but if two people serve really similar purposes, and the plot is already complex...

  15. Lorel; That's exactly what I'm doing - adding new layers. As for axing - we'll see. I'm hoping it's not necessary...

    WT; It IS hard! I'm trying to look at their purpose and their motives - if they're too similar, out they'll go. On the other hand, this plot is rather complex...

  16. Great post. I love it when my readers say they think of my characters even when they say they are not reading my story.


  17. I like characters that do something once in awhile - they MUST earn their keep or out they go! No shilly-shallying around - perform or I'll axe them. Ha! More like I'll axe them to leave very nicely and when they don't I'll beg them to do something or tell me something and then I end up with a bunch of hangers-on. hmmm....

  18. Some of my characters would kill me if I compared them to cake (and that is the likeable ones).
    You must be very brave to take on your villains like that!


    Publish or Perish

  19. I have one character in my WIP who is so important to get right and I'm failing. He's caught between stereotypes and I want to make sure he becomes neither. I'm crossing fingers during edits I get him sorted. Could make or break the book.


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