Tuesday, September 7, 2010

4 Ways to 'Plump' Up Your Flat Character

Confused about what editors or readers or even other writers mean when they say ‘flat character’? After reading your own work, are you less than excited about the characters – they seem one-dimensional and uninteresting?


That’s because they probably are. When you hear about ‘flat’ characters, it refers to those usually written by amateurs, beginning writers, who haven’t learned how to ‘flesh-out’ a character yet. As with all writing, designing and writing about an interesting character takes practice and thought and time.
There are some ways you can speed up that process, however. Assuming you already have some ideas forming about your character, do the following:

1.      1- Read. If you pick up books by well-known and respected authors, study their characters. What is it about them that draws the reader into the story? Why does the reader care what happens to that character?
2.      Take notes as you read. I keep a word doc open while reading so I can take notes straight into my writing file. When I find a particularly impressive sentence or description or turn-of-phrase, I copy it and note author and book.

3.     2-  Study. Read blogs about character development. There are thousands of writers online daily sharing what they’ve learned about ALL facets of writing. USE their knowledge gained and save yourself some time.

4.    3- Use a rubric. Those of you still in school know exactly what I mean by that. In the course of writing my first book, Odessa, I rewrote my main character about six times. I designed umpteen rubrics to help me define her. But I finally came up with one that worked and when I used it along with #5, I finally knew how she thought and how she would react to situations.

5.     4-  Interview. This is your ace-in-the-hole. Authors get interviewed all the time about their stories. That’s how readers get to know them and about them. So – interview your character. If necessary, put a chair beside your laptop, facing you, and imagine he/she sitting there. Verbally ask them questions. They will answer. It’s like the old “If you build it they will come.” Well, “If you ask them, they will answer.” And you might be surprised by what they say.

So that’s it. That’s how I design characters for my books.

Should you use real people as characters? No. For several reasons. One of which is this – real people are boring. How many heroes do you know personally? I’m not saying you can’t START with a real person and embellish the parts that will create the villain or hero you need. I did that. I used my children as models for my main characters then added or took away characteristics to make the character fit the story.


It’s not a problem to sit in a public place (airport, mall, park) and take notes on various people you see. How do they walk? How do they hold their bodies while moving, sitting, conversing? What expressions do they have at various times you watch them? How do they dress? Be observant and scribble, scribble, scribble. Remember, you should ALWAYS have a little pad and pen with you for these moments.

Secondly, if you base a character on a real person straight-up, you might have liability issues to deal with. And that would completely spoil your book release party.

I hope these ideas get you started. I’ve put the rubric I use on the Samples page. Check it out. Modify it. Make it your own. Then look at my Character Interview and do the same.

Write Often, Write Well.

4 comments:

Karen McGrath said...

Love this info, Rebecca. The sample pages are a great help as well, thank you!

The interview point works especially well for me.

Charlie said...

Excellent blog Rebecca. Right on the mark. I'm going to use the interview for sure. I started one with my new book and it makes a ton of difference. I'm planning on interviewing my next characters before I even start writing the book! Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca Ryals Russell said...

Thanks, Karen and Charlie. I don't remember where I saw the idea to interview your own character, but since doing it I'll never write without it again.
Thanks for stopping by.

Susanne Drazic said...

All wonderful tips. Great blog post. Thanks for sharing.