Wordsmith Wednesday–Creating Complex Characters


I took this photograph while climbing Angora R...

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One of the reasons novels (or short stories) are rejected is that characters lack depth. If you have a protagonist who’s too good or a villain who’s all bad, your reader will be unable to relate to them. In an earlier post we talked about the importance of bestowing a few flaws or weird mannerisms on the hero and of making sure that the antagonist has some endearing charcteristic…or at least something in his background to arouse a little sympathy.

Another way to create a complex character is to play with his or her emotions. Think about it. Do you know someone who’s always happy and optimistic (Pollyanna, maybe?) or a person who emanates only negativity? Not likely. Consider your own feelings. Sure, you may love someone dearly, but at times you will experience hurt or anger in response to a word or action. We live with conflicting emotions all the time, all at once. In crafting your characters, be sure to consider ambivalence, moods and conflicting reactions.

Another important point: show emotional complexity. Don’t just tell us about it. Expose your fictional character through dramatization so that your reader will feel that she is a part of the story.

I’d like to share an example from “Winter is Past,” that shows a range of emotions in just a snippet of a scene:

Josh drove up Mt. Rose, while I soaked in the beauty of junipers, conifers and wild bursts of early fall color splashing the sides of the highway. When we crested the mountain, crystalline splendor greeted us. Lake Tahoe splayed like a sheet of glass on the horizon. A late-season  cut through the stillness, sending ripples of contentment across the surface of the water and into my spirit. I wanted to hold on to the moment and never let go.

“Did you ever ask your mother anything more about your dream?”

Josh’s question jolted me out of my reverie. I blew out a lungful of air. “Nope. I’m waiting to see her face-to-face.”

“I think it’s gonna be important to get a grasp on whatever happened.” Josh signaled a right turn and eased onto the road circling the lake and headed toward North Shore.

“Why do you say that?” A gnawing feeling stirred in my gut. I stared straight ahead at the winding road.

“No special reason—but something weighs on you and I think you need to figure it out.”

“Weighs on me? What the hell do you mean by that?” I turned to face Josh. He’d thrown a stone onto the surface of my peacefulness, casting waves that spread into the center of my being.

“Easy, honey,” Josh patted me on the knee as though I were a little child. “You’re the one who keeps bringing up some elusive memory—it’s like you’re possessed by fear.”

“Don’t you think there’s reason for fear?” I looked straight ahead again, my eyes following the broken white line that separated us from on-coming traffic. Anger began to build up inside me.

You may want to take a scene that’s given from your own work, assess it in relation to character complexity and see what you can do with it. Try it…it’s fun!

Note: If  you’re looking for One Stop Wednesday or Sensational Haiku Wednesday, they are posted under separate entries! Thanks for stopping by.

5 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Creating Complex Characters

  1. Bodhirose says:

    I appreciate your words of encouragement very much!

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  2. Bodhirose says:

    I think this is really good advice. Your snippet of that scene was just brimming with emotions–the ones that I have experienced and the ones that I would like to be able to give to any characters that I may write about.

    For me, this made me look at myself and see how when I feel emotional about something, I can flit from one feeling to the other in a nano-second. To write well, we have to be able to give our characters those same qualities–for them to be accepted as real and believable.

    Thanks for this very important information!

    Gayle xoxo

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    • I’m glad you found it helpful. I like to recreate the emotions in myself when I’m writing fiction. It’s interesting how you become your character.

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      • Bodhirose says:

        I haven’t really tried my hand at fiction writing. I really am so inexperienced in all ways of writing–but am eager to learn. This, I thought, was very valuable advice to pay attention too. I can imagine that you would almost have to “act out” the characters as you write your storyline.

        I hope you recover swiftly from your surgery…

        Gayle xoxo

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      • If it interests you, you might want to start with short fiction. I think poetry helps in writing fiction. But poetry is wonderful. Just enjoy whatever you want!!

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