Wordsmith Wednesday–Spice Up Your Characters!


Spices from Gujarat

Image by Sudhamshu via Flickr

No matter the genre you write, you want to create compelling characters. These are the companions that will accompany your reader on the journey throughout your novel or story, and if they lack interest or personality, who will want them as travel companions?

In previous posts, we spoke about character motivation, emotional expression, relationships, point of view, personality types, and the importance of avoiding stereotypes. Today, let’s review some of these and take a look at a few more spices you can throw in the mix to (as Emeril would say) kick it up a notch.

  • Don’t allow your characters to become predictable. Surprise your reader by having your introverted protagonist take center stage at a party. Allow your victim-martyr to throw a temper tantrum. Make your malleable co-dependent cling stubbornly to her opinion or stand firm for a cause she believes in.
  • Give your character a deep, dark secret. A secret will add dimension to one or more of your major characters. How about a hidden problem with addiction or a history of childhood sexual, emotional or physical abuse. Maybe an illicit liaison or desire, an unacknowledged sin or a pattern of self-deception will add complexity. Does your hero have an unmet desire or obsession? Any of these will influence his behavior in a number of ways and make the reader want to discover more.
  • Allow her to be vulnerable. Focus in on a fear or weakness with which your reader can identify and that may get in the way of your characters attaining their goals. Create empathy and identification.
  • Give them an enemy. You don’t want everyone in the story to be supportive of your protagonists on their road to achieving what they want. How about a boss who stands in the way of her success? A girlfriend who sabotages her? A lover who criticizes or demeans? Make sure there are some bumps on the road to success.
  • Identify major, secondary and minor characters and proceed accordingly. Spend more time and effort on those who play central roles in your work, but don’t neglect the nosy neighbor, the first wife or the usual suspect who turns out to be a false lead.

These are just a handful of devices to make your characters more textured and appealing to those who will travel with them. I find it helpful to harvest personality characteristics from people I’ve known throughout my lifetime, being careful, of course, to keep them unidentifiable.

I invite you to take a look at some of the older posts in Wordsmith Wednesday that deal with characterization. I believe that writing complex, compelling characters is one of the most important keys to successful fiction.Have fun with the people you create!

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8 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Spice Up Your Characters!

  1. I’m finding your Wordsmith Wednesdays very helpful, Victoria. Thank you for giving so much aid in so few words. I think you’re among the top writer-tip-websites online!

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  2. trisha says:

    thanks for these priceless suggestions. terrific points to be utilized. thanks again.

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  3. Chloe says:

    Hi – I will definately be using your posts like this one in the future when I focus on writing my own novel. Fantastic. Thank you! xx

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  4. Very useful advice Victoria. I liked the one about the deep dark secret … I personally enjoy characters with one of those especially when appears right when you don’t expect it and turns the whole icon of the line that they follow, up-side-down! Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  5. Lisa says:

    These are all good suggestions! The idea of a deep, dark secret is something I’ve been working on with my characters recently. You’ve motivated me to continue to work on that aspect this evening.

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  6. Jamie Dedes says:

    Bravo. Well done … all fine suggestions we should remember. Thanks, Victoria.

    And thanks for your recommendation of Sue Monk Kidds book. I’ve been thinking of reading it and your comment clinched it. Will do …

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  7. Tino11 says:

    Very predictable, no skeletons left in my closet, vulnerabilty fixed with patch, no ememies known.

    I think I can forget writing stories about myself from now on, lol.

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